It’s easy to start an online store, but to succeed you need market research. Thankfully, even market research is easier now than ever.
We encourage you to do your own market research related to your specific product, but we’ve gotten you started with some insights into what customers want from most e-commerce stores.
Features vs. gimmicks
First, let’s make sure everyone understands what a “feature” is–and isn’t.
For something to be considered a feature...
- It must be a distinctive aspect that differentiates the product from the competition.
- It must directly affect the main functionality and/or design of the product.
- It must be necessary, a much-needed functionality.
A gimmick, on the other hand, may not fit this description. A gimmick generally isn’t wholly necessary, but it can still be a welcome addition to your store. However, it could also come across seeming contrived....
- A good gimmick matches the likes of your audience
- A bad gimmick is “unnecessary” and a turnoff rather than an attraction
Smartphone technology: Touchscreens
Remember when the phones were dominated by Blackberry, Motorola, Nokia and such? A phone with no buttons was unheard of. Then the first iPhone came along and changed the game. It wasn’t the first touchscreen phone, but it defined how smartphones look now.
In the days when buttons on phones were the norm, you didn’t think of touchscreen technology as a feature. Yes, in the case of Apple, it differentiated the iPhone from the competition and it directly affected how the phone was used, but it wasn’t really that “needed.”
At the time, the primary purpose of a phone was to make phone calls, and you didn’t really need fancy technology to make phone calls. But due to the iPhone’s ubiquity and newfound interest in this “gimmick,” all phone manufacturers followed suit and made the touchscreen technology a key feature.
And there was no turning back. Companies who didn’t adopt the technology early on had difficulty competing in the market for years.
Sometimes, the line between a feature and gimmick can be very thin. Ultimately, it falls on the consumer to determine if a new offering by a company is a feature or gimmick. But how can e-commerce store owners know if an idea for a new feature might just be a fleeting gimmick?
As we’ve alluded to, a big way to tell if something is a feature or gimmick is necessity. A feature is a much-needed change. If a change is really not necessary, it could be perceived as a gimmick by your customers.
However, like in our illustration above, sometimes gimmicks can create the necessity for themselves. First, touchscreen was a gimmick. It was not really needed for the basic function of a phone. However, the industry wanted the phone to have more functions–and it turned out that consumers agreed. So the hardware had to change. Touchscreen is not just a feature anymore, it’s the standard. 95% of all new phones have touchscreens. Now, the newest gimmick is foldable screens. (Who’s to know if this will remain a gimmick or if the market will decide that foldable screens are necessary after all?)
But why do we need to make a distinction between a feature and a gimmick? Because gimmicks can turn people off. Additional features can be construed as an added bonus to what a consumer paid for... but multiple gimmicks can just make people lose interest in buying. That’s because gimmicks can sometimes give off a cheap and inauthentic vibe.
Online Store Features
Now that we have explored the difference between a feature and a gimmick, let’s talk about the features that you should apply to your online store.
The features we include in this article are based on customer surveys, industry trends and e-commerce news. Here are some of our resources:
- Survey: What features do e-commerce shoppers want?
- 71% of Customers Use Ecommerce Apps for Price Checking
- What Consumers Want from E-Commerce Websites
- 19 E-Commerce Statistics You Can Use to Inform Your Marketing Strategy
We categorized the features into six types based on six benefits that a customer will get using those features.
Accessibility is important because customers shopping online crave convenience. (Hey, there’s a reason they’re not putting on pants and going into a physical store.)
- Multichannel/Omnichannel Support - Customers today are either really busy or preoccupied. It’s a huge advantage being everywhere your customer might be, because then purchasing from you doesn’t feel like an out-of-the-way chore. There are two key things you can do to improve your omnichannel support:
- Be where your potential customer is - Multiple potential customers are scattered all around the internet. If you’re where they are, they will naturally gravitate towards your store.
Remove friction from transition - Picture this. A customer was at a coffee shop, finishing up his emails. He remembered that he and his significant other needed a new lamp for their nightstand. He browsed your website and saw one that they liked. He marked it as one of his favorites. Suddenly, his significant other called and said that he should come home already.
He left the coffee shop and went into transit. Sitting on a bus, he browsed through his phone and remembered the lamp when browsing through social media. He visited your Instagram page and purchased the lamp. He then arrived at his stop and walked to his apartment.
After some few steps, his phone vibrated. The app notified him that there is a location nearby where he can pick up his lamp. So, he went to the physical store, picked up the lamp and went home.
Arriving at his apartment, his significant other opened the door, and he said, “Honey, I got us the lamp.” And they lived happily ever after. (His name is Aladdin, by the way. Just kidding.)
The customer went through three different channels: website, Instagram and physical store. Everytime he interfaced with your store’s different channels, the experience was seamless. He felt no difficulty continuing the progress of his purchase. The channels even crossed the digital realm into the physical store.
This crossover between online and physical is called BOPIS/ISPU or ROPO. No, these aren’t spy code names. BOPIS is Buy Online, Purchase In-Store, ISPU is In-Store Pickup and ROPO is Research Online, Purchase Offline.
It could also be interchangeable, like BIMBO. Browse In-Store, on Mobile, Buy Online. (People got creative with these acronyms.)
The internet has made people accustomed to getting information in seconds. Shoppers expect the same speed from your online store.
Chatbots/Fast Response Times - One of the most important things that consumers want is a fast response for inquiries, especially complaints. One way to do that is to have a chatbot that has machine learning and a dedicated knowledge base.
Machine learning makes the chatbot faster and more accurate in its responses with little to no oversight.
But fast responses should not sacrifice quality.
Imagine a customer who has just bought an app from your store that helps organize his emails by color coding.
He reached out through a direct message on Twitter and complained that the color system is sometimes incorrect. He placed all the details of the incident on the message.
He got this response after a few minutes. “Hey Mr. Clymer. We are so sorry for the inconvenience. We will be looking into your concern. Here’s a reference number. You will receive a message shortly with a detailed explanation once we have reviewed the issue.”
Then after a few more minutes, he received the details and a patch for the app to work properly.
Fast and quality responses have a stronger impact on customers than having the option to contact a company via multiple channels. But it doesn’t mean that we should discount the feature of multi/omnichannel support. We should just be consistent about our response times, focus on one channel then add more channels along the way.
The key to feature options is having the right amount. Too many and customers might suffer from option/choice paralysis. Too little and customers might look somewhere else for different options. It’s a balancing act. Here are some things to help you determine how many feature options you should offer:
Price Checking/Product Comparisons - If you have multiple products or services that have similar features or tier pricing, customers normally want to know what the differences are.
One of the last, unnoticed factors that push the customers into making the purchase is justification for their purchase, especially if there are multiple variants of the product or service. Which one is better? Which one is more value for the money? These are some of the questions that customers ask.
Shipping cost and inconvenience is the last hurdle that customers face when purchasing online, and if that hurdle is really low, more and more customers would be willing to cross that purchase line.
- Smart Search - This is a very important feature especially if you have a large store with multiple products and services. Here are some smart search features:
- Related products
- The ability to see details immediately
- The ability for more specific search options such as:
- New Products
- Number of purchases
Ease of Use
Most of us are self-taught when it comes to using the internet. No one really gave us instructions on how to use apps, websites or social media because everything is self-explanatory and very intuitive. So, if your store is an exception, people will mostly click off. Here’s what to consider to make sure your online store is as easy to use as possible:
The “WTF” moment can occasionally make your products memorable, but if you leave customers perplexed (if you never explain exactly what your product does), they will definitely not buy it.
However, you should also not do the opposite, giving excess details about the product. This is especially true for product listings on Amazon. Customers generally don’t have the time to read a short story or a thesis when they are browsing for products.
The rule of thumb would be that the customer understand what the product is after three seconds of reading. As much as possible, all the important considerations should be in clear view when they first see your product.
That said, if a customer asks for more details, give it to them. If a customer is satisfied by the details, they will have a higher chance of purchase.
Another factor in design is the navigation. Physical stores sometimes have confusing, ever-changing layouts–and that’s for a reason: to keep you inside the store.
But for online stores, it’s easy for your customers to click off and go somewhere else! So you should use the opposite approach, making your site as easy to navigate as possible.
Navigation tools should be easy to see but subtle enough. People don’t want to be blatantly instructed.
The success of your store depends on customer communication and relationships. One thing that strengthens both is trust. This is particularly needed in online stores, where your customers can’t touch or interact with your products physically before purchase.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t build the customer’s trust enough to convince them to make a purchase.
Customer Reviews - Customers check reviews immediately after looking at product details. Believe it or not, negative reviews are sometimes needed for something to be more trustworthy. That’s because having only positive reviews looks artificial and too good to be true. We’re talking about trust so customers value true reviews. People will immediately know if reviews are faked.
It’s also better if the customer has the option to sort reviews into positive and negative reviews.
We definitely recommend that your store encourage customers to give a review. It will not only help your store, but it will help you improve your product or possibly your store experience.
Purchasing requires people to give out sensitive financial information that makes them vulnerable. Security features are absolutely essential. Here are some security features you need to have for your store:
Regulations are also in place to protect customer information. If you will store sensitive customer information, you need to be compliant with several laws. Compliance requires optimal security and transparency. Make sure that the customers know that you are not saving their information, and information that’s given is only used on the transaction at hand. Transparency is the key.
Some loyalty programs require customers to go deep into the website or app to join, and that defeats the purpose. Loyalty programs should be easy to access and highly visible to inspire customers to buy more and keep choosing you.
It’s frustrating for a customer to have received a damaged or defective product (or a product that just wasn’t what they expected), and it’s frustrating for an online store to have to deal with returns. Even with near perfect quality control, returns are a normal part of this business.
Properly dealing with returns and making it as easy as possible for customers provides a great customer experience.
Losses are inevitable but it’s manageable. It can be minimized through proper return policy writing. Also, it’s a good idea to not let the customers feel the weight of the loss. That is, don’t place the burden of labor on the customer. Make returning easy for them!
You may think that having customers handle the hassle of the returns will save you money. But remember, losing one sale is normal, but losing a loyal customer is more expensive.
Bonus Feature: Voice Devices Compatibility
This feature might be more of a gimmick for now, but as more Internet of Things devices get integrated with voice intelligence, voice compatibility might just be a make-or-break feature in the future (kind of like how touchscreen became so important for smartphones).
We advise you to make your online store and product names unique–but crucially, easy to pronounce and not easily confused with something else.
Imagine this scenario: Your product is called “Week Healer.” It’s a food supplement that puts your body into an optimal relaxation and repair state, taken every weekend to revive you from the past week and prepare you for the next.
A customer orders your product through Amazon Echo. “Hey Alexa, buy an eight pack of Week Healer.”
Alexa replies, “Sure Chase, purchasing eight packs of weed killer.”
It’s funny from an observer’s viewpoint. The customer might find it funny too, but most likely, they will be annoyed. And that’s why the store and your products should be easily recognizable and easy to say aloud.
Quality over quantity
More features are always attractive to buyers, but doing too many things at once makes you a jack of all trades but a master of none. This turns off customers.
Here’s the mindset you should have: People prefer a Swiss army knife with the extensions they need, not a pile of them they don’t even know how to use. Quality over quantity.
You don’t have to have all the features your competitors do. What’s more important is that you think of the important categories we’ve listed here–accessibility, speed, options, ease of use and trust–and base your features around them.