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Guest column: High-consideration purchases go online

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E-commerce is no longer only for routine transactions.

Consumers are increasingly making high-consideration purchases online. This is a pivotal shift in the commerce landscape that will force retailers to rethink their customer experiences both online and in-store. Content will be key. 

Traditionally, high-consideration purchases – anything that you invest a lot of time to research prior to purchase, such as a car or a mattress –  happened solely in stores. Consumers came to physical locations, perhaps a showroom, and got to see, touch and test an item prior to taking out their wallet. 

One main reason why these types of purchases haven’t traditionally been made online has to do with financial security fears. But those are now long gone. Additionally, in the research phase of a purchase, online channels at one point didn’t really give consumers enough content and information to empower them to make a purchase. And a lot of retailers were not offering high-consideration purchases online, since it was considered a channel conflict with their traditional distribution channels. 

All of this is changing today.

A new Internet era
With high-consideration purchases, content and brand storytelling is becoming absolutely critical. This content needs to come in many different formats. Coupled with advances in what consumers can do online and how fast they can do it, shoppers have become more comfortable with make high-consideration purchases without ever going into a store. 

Today, if I want to purchase a new car, I can go to the manufacturer’s website to view both the interior and exterior via 360-degree video. I can change color schemes and see the end result. There are hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos from actual owners and forums for open and honest discussion. People can now immerse themselves into a brand’s value proposition and the brand’s story before they even identify the specific product that they want to buy. 

Having all of this information at their disposal, consumers are empowered to make smarter purchases. This has changed their perspective of the traditional showroom, where a salesperson is paid a commission to sell. People tend to question whether the sales reps really have a shopper’s best interest in mind. 

Online channels tell the brand story

Another reason that high-consideration purchases are now made online is because consumer expectations have changed. They are no longer just looking for the best deal. Instead things, like brand story and mission are increasingly swaying people into purchasing products or doing business with a company. 

The digital tools for engaging a consumer have also proliferated over the years. Online video, 3D images, augmented reality, virtual reality, and more have come into fruition and are helping brands better tell their stories. Remember, we are no longer in the business of selling products. We’re selling experiences, and online channels are enabling this trend. 

Simplifying complex purchases and returns
Generally speaking, high-consideration purchases, are complex products. There are a lot of considerations, and often, these products come in many, different variations. Let’s use furniture as an  example. You’re buying a couch. Most of the couches are custom manufactured. You can set how many blocks make up the L shape. You can determine how many cushions you want. You can have a million different fabrics and color swatches and different cushions and materials, so that couch may actually have over a million different configurations. 

In the store, you are lucky if they have one version of this couch you like so much, but it is the one with three seats instead of four, so you have to visualize what the one you actually want would look like. And then it’s only one fabric color you get see in the showroom, and although you can look at the fabric sheet, you are still trying to visualize what it all looks like at the end, which leaves a lot up to the imagination. 

In a digital environment, with tools such as 3D video and augmented and virtual reality, all of that guesswork doesn’t exist. You can not only see that couch you like in every color it comes in, but you can juxtapose it onto your living room and see if it matches your shades and your rug. 

As the use of this technology proliferates in the retail space, I predict that AR and all of the technology helping people better visualize what something may look like in their space could improve online conversion rates for high-consideration purchases and also could have a massive impact on returns, too. 

Content drives commerce 

The bottom line is that in-depth content is becoming an even more important aspect of the commerce strategy, as it essentially works to turn shoppers into buyers. Content shouldn’t stop once someone makes a purchase, either. Warranty information and installation guides, for example, are just some of the content types that your customers could rely on post purchase. And they can help increase loyalty and a person’s propensity to buy from you again. 

Peter Sheldon is senior director of strategy for Magento at Adobe.

 





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