The rate of change has never been greater — or faster — for the footwear industry, with new challenges popping up every day in nearly all corners of the business, from navigating cash crunches and supply chain issues to understanding the latest technological advances. In its “Ask An Expert” series, FN asks industry leaders — all solutions-based providers — to take on some of the most timely topics.
A positive consumer experience can help convert browsers into buyers and new customers into regulars. But many footwear companies are selling online for the first time, to consumers whose needs and wants are changing rapidly. To succeed, retailers need to offer a smooth and efficient online platform. And those that create additional value in the purchasing experience will see big rewards.
Chris Hogue, head of strategy and product at customer experience platform LiveArea, spoke with FN about some of the common errors in online retail and how to stay in tune with shifting consumer behavior.
FN: Many brands are trying out DTC channels for the first time right now. What are some small or easy ways that they can improve the consumer experience of their platform?
Chris Hogue: The best place to start is data: If you don’t have a good handle on your analytics, then it should absolutely be the top priority. There are lots of insightful reports you can leverage, like Google or Adobe Analytics, that are purpose-built for commerce sites. They track the efficacy of product listing pages: how many people are adding to or abandoning carts. Knowing how effective those pages are can help identify where you need to make improvements on your site.
Beyond the analytics, page-load times are super important. Making sure that they load fast, especially on mobile devices, can do more to improve your conversion rate than almost any other measure. If your page-load time is over two seconds, your conversion rate is absolutely suffering. And lastly, I recommend clear navigation that is easily scanned. Far too often, e-commerce navigation has nothing but text, so there’s a cognitive load that any user has to undertake. Adding imagery for product categories helps people move in and out of categories quickly.
FN: “Experiential retail” was a buzzword for the industry prior to the pandemic, but how does this idea of creating a compelling consumer experience translate to a digital setting?
CH: It’s absolutely still relevant. Instead of the experience taking place in the physical world, which is where we traditionally look, we should look at how we can be impactful in the digital world. Instead of thinking, “pop-up in Times Square,” think “pop-up in Animal Crossing.” Start to see where the people are, where the interest and action is in the digital space. I also think it’s about making curbside pickup experiential. Try to make that a more interesting place. Traditionally, we expect to spend about 20 minutes to pick up an order, so anything you can do either to shorten that time or to make that time more enjoyable is going to be impactful.
FN: Are there any big differences in creating positive experiences for the B2B market versus the B2C market?
CH: I think the biggest difference in B2B versus B2C is there tends to be more focus on efficiency in the ordering process. There’s still room to have an expansive experience, but we need to make sure that people get in and out quickly. On the expansive front, a purchasing experience that integrates market trends and how this might impact demand can be really fun to play with. Data and AI can have a much greater impact on B2B than B2C — being able to look at regional buying patterns and build that intelligence into your purchasing platform can create a powerful set of features. A footwear company can leverage some of these models to help their resale partners better forecast demand. If you can help your retailers carry less inventory, across your partner ecosystem, that is a big win for them.
FN: What are some parts of the customer experience that are frequently overlooked by footwear companies?
CH: Across the entire industry, sizing and fit are woefully inadequate in almost every digital experience. And it doesn’t have to be that way. You can correlate past sales and sizes with return rates, customer reviews, feedback from customer service reps. If you have a means of actually analyzing this information, let people know: “X percent of our customers tend to think that this particular brand of shoe runs small.” It’s just a matter of being able to analyze data, create pockets of people and assign different attributes to a customer profile. Many retailers are saying that their return rates are down because purchases are more considered right now. But eventually, the hope is that we start to get impulse purchases again — and if [a company] has this mastered, they will get to keep those return rates low.
FN: Consumer behavior is radically changing at this time. What actions should brands be taking to ensure that they’re still in tune with their customers?
CH: This is where loyalty programs are super important. By loyalty, I don’t mean points per dollars spent; I mean ones that really allow brands to get close to their customers and understand what’s important to them. Some of the most successful programs revolve around understanding what types of community organizations are important to somebody. Maybe it leads to being a sponsor of a particular event within that community, maybe it’s the charitable contributions that you give. This opportunity to understand what’s important to your customers — and act on that — is the most important aspect of monitoring behavioral change. Right now, a lot of retailers are opening up appointment-only shopping hours. That’s a wonderful time to get to know your customers in-depth, just by having shopping associates spend a little time with them.