Capturing the ‘Almost Customer’

Why online retailers must embrace innovation to capture the ‘almost customer’

While the multifaceted e-commerce market has put an unprecedented amount of choice and information at the hands of the consumer, it is also breeding a sea of indecision when it comes to purchasing.

British retail habits have been shifting for a while now. The well-documented trend towards online shopping, as evidenced by the demise of bricks-and-mortar brands and the rise and rise of digital challengers such as ASOS, has seen us become a nation of click-happy shoppers. From fast fashion to furniture, we turn to e-commerce to serve an ever-expanding range of needs.

‘Almost shopping’ is the practice of browsing online, adding items to a basket, heading to the payment page, then just… stopping there. A staggering 96.7% of visits to e-commerce sites end before purchase, creating a headache for retailers and breeding a nation of basket-drop-aholics.

Are we simply mirroring habits played out in physical stores? You know the routine; selecting an item, trying it for size, then deciding against the purchase.

Almost but not buying things online appears to reflect the wide variety of options available to modern consumers. It’s no longer a choice between a handful of high-street stores or a trip to a local retail park to get a special outfit or replace a knackered PC. Instead, there’s frequently an overwhelming amount of choices. From independent retailers and vintage offerings, to massive brands and international outlets.

In a peculiar paradox, a world in which information is abundant, consumers knowledge is more limited than ever before. It would be impossible for consumer’s to know much about the alternative brands and products available to them even in the categories in which they habitually make purchases in. You could head online to search for a new laptop case and add a suitable looking one to your basket. But then you spot another that looks good too. You scroll through the reviews to see if they will help you decide; they’re mixed! Oh no! More research is needed. Time to Google it to see if the laptop case has been reviewed by a newspaper or has featured in a ‘top ten’ article. There’s so much information, it’s often hard to make a choice. Close browser.

While the e-commerce market has undoubtedly contributed to the unprecedented amount of choice and information, it may also be conditioning folks to be indecisive when it comes to the purchase moment. For example, nearly 20% of online shoppers give up when sites don’t allow them to easily browse via multiple tabs (usually used to compare products).

It’s perhaps not surprising then that an increasing number of retailers are exploring new forms of technology and innovation in an attempt to improve the shopping experience. This includes reducing friction at the payment point, helping enhance the process for the 18.6% of people who find this element too complicated to use.

Similarly, more personalised shopping experiences are being brought into e-commerce operations. These include style tips from your own online ‘stylist’ based on your hair colour and tastes, or using algorithms to predict what additional items a consumer might want or need. VR and AR are being experimented with too, particularly amongst homeware and furniture brands, with companies such as Ikea allowing you to visualise what that bookcase would look like in that corner of your living room.

In a retail market where we literally have the world at our fingertips, it’s incumbent upon retailers to get savvier when it comes to providing the personal touch in the digital sphere. Using innovative marketing strategies to get shoppers onto their sites is one thing, but converting them into customers is another thing entirely.

And, for consumers, perhaps retailers upping their game with save us from ourselves; allowing us to ditch our addition to maybe-shopping, and instead leave with what we came for.