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How Fashion Brands Can Use Their Retail Stores to Increase Website Conversions and Sales
When it comes to increasing ecommerce conversions, companies serious about optimization know that if they truly want to see results, simply A/B testing and making changes on a website and hoping it’s effective is unlikely to move the needle.
Conversion optimization is a process, and companies that get this follow methods such as our Testing Trifecta™, that force the marketer to use analytics to guide them through various (and often little used) research methods to understand exactly what to test and change on a website to boost sales.
SplitBase’s Testing Trifecta™ Methodology for Conversion Optimization
With this being said, most research methods being used for conversion optimization today are currently taking place on a computer screen. But what if your business has an offline component to it, such as retail stores?
For fashion and luxury brands, the retail store is an untapped gold mine for insights that can lead to significant increases in ecommerce revenue.
In this post, you’ll learn step-by-step how to efficiently utilize your brand’s retail stores to increase online conversions.
Let’s dive in.
First, set a goal. What do you need to get out of this?
When doing such research, if you’re not clear on what you’re trying to learn, you’ll be overwhelmed with information, you will likely be asking the wrong questions, and in the end, you’ll end up wasting your time.
The first step is to understand what you’re looking to get of out your retail store visit and interviews that you’re about to do. Sure, the goal is to capture insights that could be helpful to generate A/B test ideas, or to make changes on your website that hopefully will lead to an increase in conversions or even increase average order value. But what exactly are you looking to know? This question has to be abundantly clear.
Before we begin this type of research, we always take a deep dive into the company’s website analytics.
We need to understand which areas of the website need the most attention. Are the product pages performing poorly, or is it the checkout? Which pages are hindering conversions?
If we see that product pages are the issue, for example, when going to the retail store we’ll be looking to find out the most frequent questions and concerns customers have. We’ll be trying to understand how they make their decision to buy, or not to buy.
Are there things that happen in the retail store that facilitate a sale that could also be replicated online? That’s what we want to know.
Analytics don’t reveal everything either (which is exactly why we do qualitative research).
You’ll likely want to understand how people perceive the brand, and the value customers see in the company’s products. Things that analytics won’t tell you.
Ask yourself – what do we assume about the brand, or about the products that we don’t have a clear answer for? What do we not know about what customers are thinking or saying when shopping our company’s products?
Once this is clear and you know what you want to get out of your retail store visit, you’ll be in a position to easily pick and formulate questions that you will be using when entering the company’s retail store (hint: below we listed the questions we use the most often and that works for most brands), and you will be increasing the quality of the insights you’ll be collecting.
Take a few minutes to observe customers
When we want to understand how people navigate and behave on a website, we observe their mouse movement, clicks and navigation using methods such as session recordings and user testing.
These methods are immensely valuable for website designers, digital marketers, and optimizers looking to understand their website visitors.
But what about the bigger picture? What do you do when you want to understand how the customer decides to go from product to product, which products they like to compare, and the questions they have while shopping?
Sit somewhere in the store, observe customers, and take notes.
This is the in-person equivalent of session recordings. It may not be as useful as session recordings, as those in-person observations may not translate as concretely to actionable insights for improving your website than say, the online methods. However, you may still observe interesting patterns in shopping behaviors amongst customers that you wouldn’t have thought about.
You don’t know what you don’t know. And this allows you to get a peek of how people shop your brand in their “natural habitat”.
Take out your notebook and interview store employees and store managers
If you had to pick one thing to do in your retail stores that would have the most impact on your website conversions, this is it.
Store employees and store managers talk with customers every single day. They answer your customers’ questions, allay their doubts, listen to their objections, and they get to learn about them – every single day.
They also are experts at selling your products. They know what people are looking for, and what to say to make a sale.
On the other hand, most people working on the brand’s ecommerce store sit in an office, far and away from their customers and products.
Who do you think knows the customer best?
You probably guessed it; the store managers and employees are customers and product experts, and they know how to sell your products way more than anyone in the office manning ecommerce.
This is the exact reason why when we’re working with brands that have retail stores, we schedule at minimum an hour to interview store employees. If you’re working on your brand’s ecommerce, you should too – at least twice a year.
On a similar note, if you’ve hired a fashion marketing agency for any aspect of your digital marketing, especially website optimization and PPC, we highly recommend they perform this exercise too. To create work that will be effective in getting you new customers, they need to understand them at the core.
Always interview employees that interact with your customers
This may be obvious, but I still need to mention it: only interview store employees that are talking with customers every day. Managers working in the back office all day likely won’t have a fresh enough perspective to provide updated, unbiased insights. After a while of not interacting with customers, people will start rationalizing and creating their own ideas of how customers behave and think in-store.
I always recommend talking with some of the most senior store employees, along with some of the newer ones (who have been working for at least 6 months). This will give you a good mix of perspectives. Observations that are common to both the senior and junior employees is what you want to pay attention to – some “one-off” insights could lead you down the wrong path.
Some questions you will ask employees will be tailored to the brand you’re working on, but here are some of the most valuable ones that we ask in nearly every single store visit:
What are the customers’ biggest concerns?
This question allows you to understand what the customers are the most concerned about when shopping your brand’s products. Is it the quality? The guarantee? The care of the garment? It could be tons of things you never even thought of before. The answers you’ll get from this question can then be used in various ways on product pages and throughout your website to address concerns online visitors may be having that are holding them back from checking out.
For example, when doing this research for one of our clients, a luxury outerwear brand, we found out that customers were confused by the temperature rating of their coats and worried if they would be warm enough for their (the customer’s) intended use. Based on this insight, we revamped the product pages with a section that clearly indicated for what type of climate and temperature each coat was made for.
What are the most frequent questions customers ask?
Unanswered questions lead to confusion, and confusion leads to low conversions. You want to know what people are asking about your products for a very simple reason: to be able to answer those questions on your website, before they even have to ask them.
In a store, it’s simple – people can ask a retail associate. Online, there are more hoops for customers to jump through to get an answer, which means it’s more important than ever to address those questions in the proper areas of your website.
For example, if people ask frequently whether your handbags have a warranty, and indeed, you do offer one, then that’s a huge motivating factor to convince people to buy from you, and this should be clear on your product pages and throughout the checkout to reassure and motivate the customer. It could be addressed as a badge, an icon, or some sort of image to make it clear.
What makes people NOT buy from [brand]?
Price will generally be one of the top reasons why customers don’t buy. Especially if you’re in luxury fashion where a lot of people that come in store are simply window-shoppers. Don’t focus on that.
Excluding price or simply not liking the garment or item, ask the store associate why people often leave without buying. You may be surprised by what you hear. Some objections, such as people not buying from you because of the country where your products are manufactured, may be harder to address.
That being said, other reasons such as the customer not buying because they’re unsure how to wear or style the item, could be addressed by giving styling ideas in the product descriptions and product images on the website’s product pages.
What makes people buy from [brand]? What draws them to the brand?
The goal of this question is quite simple: to understand what triggers a purchase.
Do people buy it simply because of the brand appeal and what it represents? If that’s the case, what aspects of the brand are the customers relating the most to? It is because of the functional aspects of your garments?
The answers you will get here are quite useful when it comes to knowing what you should focus on when describing your brand or products on your ecommerce site and digital marketing campaigns.
What are the other brands that customers often compare [brand] to?
Knowing your competitors is quite valuable. Not only will this help you with your ad targeting, but it will also give you insights on who your customer is, and what type of products they buy, their style, and what influences their lifestyle. This question won’t lead to as many action items as the previous ones, but it will help you gain a deeper understanding of your customer, which can be valuable in many ways from both a merchandising and digital marketing perspective.
If they buy from X, what made them pick X instead of the competition?
Let’s be clear: in fashion, a lot of people won’t buy from you simply because they haven’t found a garment or item that’s to their liking. That being said, sometimes customers will rationalize beyond “style”, and depending on what you sell, may compare some of your products with a competitors’ for a myriad of reasons.
If that’s the case, and some of the store associates often hear the same comparisons, you may find objections that customers are having that are worth addressing.
What do you think are the most important things to communicate to customers when they show interest in order to increase your chance of making the sale?
This is a key question, and it’s best to ask this one to the most senior (or top-performing) store employee. Since this store employee likely knows your customers in-depth, they often know exactly what to say to a potential customer to increase the likelihood of a sale.
Is walking the customer through how the product is made something the customer values? Is showing them how to style the item one of the best ways to make the sale?
Listen carefully to the retail associate you’re interviewing, and see if what they’re telling you could be integrated on your website and digital marketing campaigns in some way.
Anything else that you’d like to add?
You don’t know what you don’t know. In other words, there may be questions that you never would’ve thought of asking that could be valuable for your ecommerce work. Ask the person you’re interviewing if there’s anything else you should know, and generally, they’ll likely go on to give you a few more insights.
Not everything will be applicable to ecommerce, but sometimes you may get a few golden pieces of insights that could result in A/B test ideas or impactful changes to your website.
Remember that the store employee’s answers will be based on their experience with in-store customers
Although there is an overlap with customers who shop online vs people who shop in store, there will be retail customers that are entirely different from the ecommerce customers; which means you want to be careful and take the insights you’ve gathered with a grain of salt.
To avoid following false tracks and reduce bias, we generally do two things:
We focus on the insights that were mentioned most frequently, by multiple store employees.
We cross-check the insights with those we got from customers surveys, polls and customer interviews. Insights – such as doubts, questions and objections, that came up in more than one method of research, are those that we’ll prioritize and focus on to begin with.
This doesn’t mean that if a store associate said one thing that we didn’t see in our other qualitative research methods that it’s not important. In fact, maybe it could be one of the most important insights of them all.
This is simply a reminder to be careful and not proceed with large investments or changes without having your hypothesis backed by multiple sources of data. And of course, it’s best to A/B test everything you implement based on research.
Should you interview customers who are shopping in the store?
We’re often asked if customers shopping in the retail store should be interviewed as well, just like we often interview customers who shopped through the ecommerce store, and do user testing.
The answer is that it can’t hurt, but we concluded that this is often wasted time. At one point, you can’t just do research. You have to take your learnings, and take action.
On top of that, remember that your store customer could be quite different from your online customer. Some offline research can be incredibly beneficial (such as interviewing store employees), but most of your research efforts should be focused on your online customer.
Digital marketers and conversion optimizers work in an office and we are generally quite comfortable behind our screens, but as comfortable as that might be, we must remind ourselves that the customer is human, a real person with feelings, emotions, questions and objections; and in many cases, it’s impossible to capture those elements, which can be key for conversion, through a screen.
We must step out of our offices, and go in the field:
Step into the store and observe customers. What are they looking for? What type of questions are they asking?
Talk with the store employees and managers who interact with customers all day. Seek to understand the customers’ decision process.
And just as you would do for any type of digital analysis, understand how the insights you’ve collected relate to challenges and opportunities of the website you’re optimizing. Prioritize. Test.
Now it’s your turn. Use this guide to perform your interviews, collect the insights, and see your ecommerce conversions increase.
Not sure where to start, but need to increase your ecommerce conversions?Click here to request your free luxury website analysis and we’ll review your website based on 5 key conversion-critical categories, and show where to get started with your research and optimization efforts.
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