Could Offering Too Much Product Online Actually Hurt Business?

Flustered by the vast breadth of product choices online, consumers demand tools like digital sales assistants that can “humanize” their e-commerce experiences and boost their decision-making confidence.

What exactly is a digital sales assistant? The Humanizing Digital 2020 report from SmartAssistant defines these tools — also referred to as digital advisers — as the counterpart to the brick-and-mortar store’s associate, providing helpful guidance to pinpoint the right product that meets the shopper’s needs. While the digital sales assistant is not quite a chatbot, it aids customers who may not know exactly what they want to purchase by asking a series of image-supported questions to weed out mismatches and focus on the most meaningful product attributes.

Much of the excitement over e-commerce and its continued rise ignores the numerous ways in which the online shopping experience falls short of what it could be. Though many consumers appreciate being able to find a greater product assortment online versus what physical stores are able to carry within their four walls, sometimes “more” is, well, more — and can lead to “analysis paralysis.” That paralysis occurs when the options are so overwhelming that shoppers end up walking away from a purchase altogether. Faced with a torrent of choices and no clear answers, the shopper often finds that no choice is the right choice — at least in the moment.

“It’s clear: E-commerce has made shopping more convenient, but the increased amount of choice is confusing consumers to the point that they’re feeling incredibly overwhelmed, leaving websites without buying,” Markus Linder, SmartAssistant founder and president, said. “Customers want interactive, human-like support from technology that can offer personalized help in real-time.”

German, U.S., and UK shoppers participating in the survey that powered the Humanizing Digital 2020 report said digital sales assistants could enhance the purchase experience across myriad product categories. U.S. consumers believe these assistants could be useful in a number of shopping scenarios, such as purchasing gifts for others (71 percent) and selecting the right shoes (58 percent). The survey takers also said shopping for apparel and luggage (53 percent) and purchasing products for babies and kids would be better if online digital sales assistants were available to steer them in the right direction. For 81 percent of global surveyed consumers, using a digital sales assistant would help them feel more confident in their purchase decisions, according to the report.

Though typical e-commerce features like attribute pickers and product filters may suffice for some shoppers or purchase scenarios, digital sales assistants rely on a dialogue-based approach to enable a “more engaging, cooperative and supportive framework of interaction,” the report said. One respondent, emphasizing the valuable minutes (or hours) that a digital sales assistant can save, said, “You don’t have to waste too much time scrolling through a ton of product pages,” adding that the experience is “personalized” to the shopper. Yet another survey participant appreciated that this kind of digital tool cuts to the heart of the matter in a way that the consumer alone often is unable to. The digital adviser “easily walks you through the features and options while asking questions that, being a layman, I wouldn’t think of asking,” the participant said.

Amid the retail renaissance that’s currently underway, numerous retailers have focused on bringing key elements of the digital experience into the physical store. And yet these findings indicate that many consumers hunger for a more assistive touch in their digital shopping journeys — with transactions, conversion rates and loyalty ultimately at stake. “The research shows that retailers and brands that make their online offer more ‘human’ — by providing intelligent, interactive assistance and guidance — are best placed to [fulfill] today’s customer expectations and make more sales,” Linder said.

The risks? Losing customers to retailers that provide a better digital experience. With time and convenience major considerations for shoppers today, it stands to reason that 71 percent of surveyed consumers said they’ve switched to buying from a competitor website that better helps them find the products they’re looking for.

Editor’s Note: This story was reported by FN’s sister magazine Sourcing Journal. For more, visit Sourcingjournal.com.

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