Optimising the online shopping experience when no two customer journeys are the same

Raisa Cuevas, Nadine Liefländer / March 2021
Optimising the online shopping experience when no two customer journeys are the same

Customer journeys are complex. And a single customer can be on many journeys at the same time. One minute, they could be browsing for the perfect birthday gift for their partner. Next, they’re looking for a replacement of a coffee cup they just knocked over. One customer, one sitting — two very different stages of the messy path-to-purchase.

“Meeting the needs of all customers all the time is no easy feat,” says Maite Zubiarre, director of marketing and shopping technology at Dutch e-commerce platform bol.com. “But it does provide us with the opportunity to guide our shoppers — even if there are many types of them, all on unique multi-channel, multi-platform journeys.”

With these many differences, what can brands do to deliver an optimised experience to every customer? Here are three ways bol.com made it work.

1. Focus on customer pain points

Trying to grasp the entire consumer journey isn’t always the recipe for success. Instead, brands can improve the shopping experience by digging into their data and identifying the pain points of their customers. These are the areas where they can make the biggest positive changes.

“It’s not our goal to have all the data in the world,” says Jeroen Steenbergen, bol.com’s manager of product management. “There’s no way we can use it all. Plus, you have to accept that there’s no silver bullet. Even though you have found the right solution for your problem today, constantly changing consumer behaviour could mean it no longer works next year, or even next quarter.”

Therefore, his team meets regularly and often conducts UX (user experience) research and design sprints. This recently helped them discover that their customers spend a lot of time scrolling the site after missing the opportunity to refine a search, which can distract them from continuing their purchase.

Trying to grasp the entire consumer journey isn’t always the recipe for success. Instead, brands can optimise the shopping experience by digging into their data and identifying the pain points of their customers.

The team tested and successfully implemented two new features to help customers more easily find what they need. Now, shoppers can browse products by category and refine their search queries through a more detailed filter overview. The new filter is used 7% more often than its predecessor. And showing more specific search results boosted conversions by 9%.

2. Let consumer behaviour guide your strategy

For bol.com, using consumer data is not so much a question of choice as it is a necessity. It’s the only way to keep pace with the constantly changing consumer behaviour, and so it should be at the heart of any digital strategy.

“You have to listen to what your customers are telling you,” says Steenbergen. “Sometimes they can tell you something unexpected, and you may not always want to hear it, but you always have to listen.”

“For us, consumer data is simply a means to better understand and solve the messy middle,” adds Zubiarre. “It guides our way forward, because offering the best possible shopping experience to each of our customers is the ultimate goal.”

“Sometimes [customers] can tell you something unexpected, and you may not always want to hear it, but you always have to listen.”

To achieve this, bol.com consciously decided to become a product organisation focused on innovating the user experience of their platform. They set up a cross-functional product team — including data scientists, engineers, and data-driven user experience (UX) specialists — dedicated to helping customers find and buy what they need.

3. Encourage autonomy by setting clear expectations

The benefits of a cross-functional team are multifold. “Having team members from different backgrounds comes with a wide range of perspectives,” says Steenbergen. “While this can be challenging to navigate, we need these different viewpoints and areas of expertise to ensure that we are clear on the pain points they face.”

Encouraging autonomy is also important. “Always needing management approval can really slow down implementation,” says Zubiarre. “That’s why we feel it’s better to empower our teams to work independently. Our board still weighs in, but at a much higher level than before.”

Now, board members focus on understanding key topics and setting clear directions for the organisation, while letting teams decide for themselves how best to act on that. “We truly believe in the power of responsibility and trust,” says Zubiarre. “If you set the right expectations for the right team with the right expertise, the outcome can really be incredible.”

This strategy, alongside a focus on consumer behaviour and removing pain points in the purchasing journey, has allowed bol.com to continuously improve the service it offers to their customers.

3 ways to optimise the online shopping experience

  • Focus on what matters most: Prioritise identifying your customers’ pain points and take away as many barriers as possible through continuous product testing.
  • Be open to change: As your customers change, so too will your business need to adapt its strategy and product offerings.
  • Invest in your structure: Create autonomous, cross-functional product teams that can approach the complexity of the purchase journey from different angles.

Watch the miniseries “Transform to be ready”

This Google miniseries dives into key marketing themes including first-party data and the “messy” middle of the consumer journey. Click on the banner below to find the registration link for your country and watch all six episodes on-demand.

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