Having an online retail presence is not just a matter of making products available online; it’s about understanding customer purchasing behaviour and providing everything they need to make an informed and efficient purchasing decision. The real goal is to build an amazing customer experience, not just an online retail store.
Human behaviour in relation to purchasing and using products is well known, and can be boiled down to the key phases of the buying cycle – Research, Narrow, Buy and Use. Creating an environment and employing tools to enable purchase is the key to how you transition a customer from Research to Narrow and from Narrow to Buy.

To enable a customer is to help them make two very specific decisions. Firstly, to make the purchase decision of what to buy. Secondly, to actually hit the ‘buy’ button once that decision has been made. This small sequence is critical to site performance – if you need to meet online retail sales targets then customers need to be able to simply and logically complete this chain of thoughts and actions.

So, how best to do it?

1. Support how customers make their purchase decision.

Host and maintain relevant content on each product to satisfy the needs of the ‘Research’ and ‘Narrow’ phases of customer purchasing behaviour. The more you can do to help a customer make the decision, the better.

Think about all real-world behaviours that people undertake and then cater to them. Experience in bricks and mortar retail tells us that customers like to:

  1. Ask for opinions – show ratings and reviews, and allow people to contribute.

  2. Find out which product is better – allow customers to make direct product feature comparisons.

  3. Make sure it’s a bargain – show the old price along with the new.

  4. Make sure it’s going to fit the space – give detailed information about materials and product specifications with manufacturer information.

  5. See that it matches what they already have, and can feel the texture and see it sparkle – use pictures, image zooms or 360-degree views.

If this seems daunting, then formulate a plan to introduce these features in stages. Start with the core range and work from there – persistence will ultimately pay off.

2. Provide clear calls to action.

This may seem to be a no-brainer, but it is worth stating. Buttons should be visually distinct and have clear labels that match what the user is going to do. ‘Add to Cart’ in the product page and listing, and ‘Checkout’ to start the buying conversion funnel are great. They are simple and universally understood. When it comes to online shopping, ‘obvious’ is a trait that all retailers should aspire to.

This is not the end of the story on making a great online retail store, but understanding customer purchasing behaviour and their needs are key to site performance. Online shoppers will thank you for helping them decide what to buy and making the process as simple as possible in the only way they can – by becoming a loyal, repeat customer and a potential brand advocate.