How Can DTC Brands Meet the Needs of First-Time Online Shoppers?

More people are buying online than ever before. Here’s how to make a great first impression with first-time online shoppers.

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The pandemic has shifted the buying habits of millions. With stores shuttered, many consumers are buying online for the first time ever. According to a study by ClearSale, there was a 16% increase in first-time online shoppers between March and April, 2020, in the U.S. and Canada.

The needs of new online customers differ vastly from those who have been making purchases online for years. From reinforcing trust and decreasing friction to increasing support and improving accessibility, here are five ways DTC brands can tailor their websites to meet the needs of consumers unfamiliar with online shopping.

Use Signals to Reinforce Trust

Inexperienced online shoppers will be understandably wary of who they are buying from. “Unless you are a well-known company with a strong reputation, you are going to have to convince your customers that you can be trusted,” writes Jameela Ghann, Marketing Manager at personalization platform Fera. “Thankfully, there are ways to add elements of trustworthiness to your site.”

Social proof is a strong and proven method for eCommerce stores to establish trust with new online shoppers. Specifically, customer reviews can show that your store has hundreds, if not thousands, of satisfied customers. 

User-generated reviews are one of the best weapons in an eCommerce store’s arsenal, says Pawel Ogonowski, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Growcode. “They help build trust, eliminate doubts, and can dramatically boost conversions.”

In fact, customer reviews are 12 times as trustworthy than marketing collateral from a brand, says Hunter Montgomery, Chief Marketing Officer at ChurnZero.

eCommerce web designer Kristine Neil lists an SSL certificate alongside social proof content, like reviews, as one of the top ways for eCommerce brands to build trust with consumers. It’s not just consumers who will have more trust in your store, either. Google also cares that your site is secure, which can help increase rankings.  

Brands can use certified seals to build trust with consumers quickly, too, writes Jayson DeMers, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at EmailAnalytics. He recommends Trust Guard and the Better Business Bureau. “Although they require a financial investment and that you meet certain guidelines for approval, increased conversions will often cover the cost of these efforts and expenses,” he explains. “After installing an icon from one of these companies, customers will have extra reason to believe that your business is legitimate and reputable.”

branded credit cards for amazon, uber, and paypal; first-time online shoppers concept

Cover Your Bases By Increasing Payment Options

Typically, there’s no shortage of payment options when shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. DTC brands need to make sure that remains the case for their online stores.

Increasing convenience is essential, says digital marketing consultant Alexandra Tachalova. “When it comes to eCommerce payment methods, the more, the merrier,” she writes. “After all, consumers are likely to abandon their carts if their preferred payment method isn’t available. By equipping your site with a payment gateway that includes an array of payment methods, you give your business more opportunities to gain sales.” 

Visual clues are important here, too, says Jake Rheude, Vice President of Marketing at Red Stag Fulfillment. Stuffing your checkout page with credit card logos can seem a little over the top, but your customers will appreciate it. Just make sure that you include all of the options they could wish to use, he adds. “You want to look a little bit like a NASCAR driver here so that people can choose who to use and trust that you support them.”

Increasing the number of payment options helps to cater to the needs of different customers while easing any worries consumers still have about security, says Graham Charlton at behavioral marketing company SaleCycle. It makes sense to offer methods like PayPal and Amazon Pay, as both offer protection should things go wrong. “For users unfamiliar with a retailer, this extra protection can be persuasive,” he writes.

Increase Conversions By Reducing Friction

There are plenty of things common to eCommerce that don’t happen in-store, which can make consumers unfamiliar with shopping online less likely to convert. 

Take shipping costs, for example. Digital marketing consultant Shane Barker notes that nothing prepares him for the surprise at checkout when shipping costs aren’t included on product pages. The additional costs act as a discouragement, even if he’s committed to buying something.

Long waits for delivery can also cause friction. Most stores can’t replicate the next-day speed of Amazon, but that isn’t usually an issue in the experience of digital marketer Matt Thorpe at The Webshop Mechanic. The important thing is to be clear with consumers about shipping times and be as realistic as possible when it comes to timescales. 

Finally, it can be hard to get a good idea of what products are actually like. Consumers can’t try on a dress when shopping online, says William Harris, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Elumynt. That’s why brands have to go over and above to convince users of their products’ value. 

Product videos help store owners overcome this hurdle. “Videos allow viewers to see your products up close and from multiple angles,” Harris writes. “They also give you the opportunity to shape the story or experience you ultimately want your prospective customers to feel when they are researching and deciding whether to buy your products.” 

woman at a tablet-based payment station; first-time online shoppers concept

Answer Consumer Queries With Instant Customer Support

Ken Kralick, Global Director of eCommerce at Puma, says consumer online shopping expectations are increasing. Consumers who have just started to shop online for the first time are bringing their in-store expectations to digital experiences. 

One in-store experience that many brands struggle to replicate is that provided by the shopping assistant. Communicating with customers without being able to talk face-to-face is understandably difficult, but there are several strategies eCommerce brands can use to recreate the kind of experience customers are used to in-store.

Laduram Vishnoi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of customer engagement platform Acquire, says incorporating live chat into your store is a “no-brainer.” When any small question or issue can put an entire purchase in jeopardy, it pays to give consumers a fast and convenient way of connecting with knowledgeable support staff.

However, live chat isn’t always the quickest way for consumers to speak to someone, particularly if they aren’t overly familiar with the technology. That’s why it’s important to provide a direct customer service telephone line, says HubSpot’s Clint Fontanella. “Even if you don’t have call center software or a designated phone team, having an immediate way of creating a live interaction can dramatically improve the customer experience.”

You don’t have to rely on your own staff to help customers. With a little planning, you can help consumers help themselves. “A knowledge base empowers prospective customers to make informed purchases by providing detailed answers to common questions,” says Groove’s Melissa Rosen. Creating a repository of common questions will also reduce the burden on support staff before and after purchase.

Make Your Store Easy to Use by Improving Accessibility

Consumers over the age of 65 are one of the biggest drivers of recent eCommerce, according to a study by Mintel. Almost half (43%) of consumers in this age group shopped more frequently online since the start of the pandemic. Mintel puts the growth down to several factors, including concern of exposure to the coronavirus, becoming more accustomed to online shopping and having the disposable income to be able to make more purchases compared to younger consumers. The Mintel study also suggests that this age group will continue to shop online in the future.

With this in mind, eCommerce companies would do well to ensure their online stores are as accessible as possible. It doesn’t have to be complicated: Using contrasting colors and videos with captions can make your site significantly more accessible. Users should be able to change the text size without impacting the site’s functionality too; this will help those with visual impairments.

Increasing your store’s accessibility will improve the experience for all consumers, not just the elderly or those with disabilities. When you make your site more accessible, you improve the user experience for everyone, says E2M Solutions’ Manish Dudharejia. It can also result in more traffic from search engines and a more positive brand image. 

That’s the case for all of these improvements. When you tailor your store for first-time eCommerce users, you’ll be improving the experience of every other customer, too. 

Images by: Aleksandr Davydov/©, Morning Brew, Patrick Tomasso


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