Best Practices for Creating Digital Guided Selling Experiences

What You'll Learn:
How guided selling can increase revenue, conversion and AOV,
Effective uses of guided selling, 4 key steps to success, Design considerations
How to marry form and function, Tips to get the best return from guided selling tools

What is guided selling?

Guided selling is a process that helps potential buyers check the best product or service to fulfill their needs and move towards a purchase.

THE GUIDED SELLING OPPORTUNITY

Retailers recognize the power of personalization to drive meaningful brand shopping experiences. In the store, associates excel by combining deep product knowledge with the ability to ask the questions that uncover a customer’s needs and the emotions behind them. By being highly attuned to customer responses, they are able to build trust and customer relationships while guiding shoppers to an informed purchase decision.

PERSONALIZE THE ONLINE EXPERIENCE

Retailers have the opportunity to mimic this same store experience digitally, by developing sophisticated guided selling features on their websites that blend content and personalization. L2 and Demandware found that only 31% of brands in the U.S. employ guided selling today.1 However, a 2014 survey of digital marketers conducted by Forrester Consulting found that 51 percent plan to increase spending in guided selling.2 Digital guided selling also presents new opportunities for omni-channel engagement: extending into the four walls of the store experience, as L’Oreal has done with its Makeup Genius application. The app uses a smartphone front-facing camera to apply different cosmetics and looks to an image of a customer’s face. Shoppers in a drugstore can scan a barcode of a L’Oreal product and have the cosmetic similiarly “applied” to the face, enabling shoppers to virtually try before they buy.

Many have already launched these features. A beauty brand, for example, achieved dramatic results over the performance of their ecommerce website by implementing a highly personalized guided selling tool that closely resembled the in-store experience. Read on to learn if guided selling is a potential fit for your business.

WHEN TO CONSIDER GUIDED SELLING

First, identify the product(s) that benefit from guided selling. Chances are, if you’re considering developing a guided selling tool, you have already identified the product category in which you want to invest. There are three types of product categories in retail where efforts may really pay off:

TECHNICAL PURCHASES

These include complex items, often involving technology, where customers may not be familiar with the many features and functions of a product sold. Education is needed to sell the customer on the benefits of these features and functions, especially where this concerns higher prices.

BEAUTY PURCHASES

This is an obvious choice for a personalized guided selling tool—but it’s also the most challenging. You are trying to win the customer’s trust (and address their emotional needs) in buying something that is the best fit for them— when they cannot actually experience it in person. Yet there have been some outstanding successes in this area. In the U.S., 79% of beauty brands now offer some form of guided selling tool on their sites.3

SEASONAL PURCHASES

Holiday gift finders are an effective way to guide consumers to make a seasonal purchase for Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. Commonly they are organized around the intended recipient’s gender and age; their main value is early in the funnel - helping shoppers discover products that could suit their needs. Some finders also help shoppers refine their consideration set in high volume categories – such as dresses. Prom or wedding dress finders are often found on retail websites in the spring and summer.

PLANNING

Before making any level of investment in marketing or engagement features, lay the project ground work.

WHERE ARE YOU TODAY? MEASURE:

Take a snapshot of your starting point to benchmark performance and assess later whether your investment has paid off. How well does your website perform today in the following categories?

  • Pages Per Visit
  • Conversion Rate
  • Page Views
  • Average Order Value
  • Duration
  • Number of Visits
  • Bounce Rate
  • Visitors (New, Returning)
  • Site Revenue

CONCEPTUALIZE WITH THE END RESULT IN MIND

Understanding up front what you want to achieve by implementing a guided selling tool is important—not only for justifying funding but also to define what success looks like and how you will measure it. Read on for ideas.

IDENTIFY KEY METRICS
Look at the product category performance and identify which metrics you really want to focus on improving. Be specific: are you trying to lower cart abandon rates? Increase conversion rate? Increase average order value (AOV)?

CONTEXTUALIZE THE PURCHASE
Reduce complexity of the purchase by educating customers. New site visitors in particular benefit from the curated shopping experience as it helps provide context.

CROSS-SELL
In guiding the customer to one particular product, you have the opportunity to broaden their understanding of related offerings, presented individually or in packages. This can help drive increased AOV.

PROJECT BRAND PERSONALITY
Differentiate you from comptetitors by projecting a coherent brand “personality” that is more helpful, more knowledgable, more in touch with customers. And, of course, dedicated to simplifying and expediting the shopping experience.

LAUNCH A NEW PRODUCT OR COLLECTION
Powerfully launch new products or collections—or welcome new customers to your website, converting them from casual visitors to engaged ones. For existing customers, a new tool can offer an opportunity to refresh, modernize and elevate your brand.

ASSEMBLE THE RIGHT TEAM

Depending on your budget, you need to decide whether a guided selling tool is something you can outsource and/or want to build in-house.

IN-HOUSE DEVELOPMENT

Retailers have direct access to the people who best understand customer needs and have deep product knowledge. This may be all that’s needed to develop the concept, execute it; and test it cost effectively.

OUTSIDE EXPERTISE

When requirements for design elements and the user experience are more complex, engaging visual and user experience designers may provide better results.

The two approaches are not mutually exclusive: An in-house simple tool might be a good proof of concept for investing in a more robust tool. In either scenario, the team will require a close, collaborative effort between merchandising, marketing, and IT. The team may call upon additional product expertise resources as well.

SPONSORS FROM SENIOR MANAGEMENT

Stakeholders will vary widely based on the goals of the project. If it is to launch a new, high profile product category, brand marketing leadership may want to be involved.

Guided selling tools aimed at improving poor category performance, and not tied to a larger marketing launch, however, may remain entirely the domain of the ecommerce team.

PRODUCT EXPERTISE

Product subject matter expertise is necessary to develop clear product differentiation – features, benefits, etc. This may come from the merchandising, buying, or even product design team.

CASE STUDY:

DIGITAL BEAUTY COUNTER

A leading beauty brand uses guided selling to recommend products like a trusted beauty counter associate. Successful engagement and interactivity show you can create a confident buyer – in any channel. Traffic to the guided selling application outperforms the rest of the brand’s website.*

DESIGNING THE GUIDED SELLING EXPERIENCE

Once the necessary prep work is completed, it’s time to begin design.

KEEP THE INITIAL DESIGN HIGH-LEVEL

Start with conceptual design comps to sketch out the vision. Make sure the entire team and stakeholders sign off on this level before drilling down into detailed wireframes.

A tight relationship between the creative and content helps marry form and function, creating a design concept that is immersive and engaging, compelling the user to follow the finder flow. Be sure these two resources (or groups) work together and iteratively for the best result.

CHOOSE THE BEST QUESTIONS TO DELIVER THE RIGHT USER FLOW

Each question asked should be concise, with responses that do not overlap and that follow a logical path.

  • Employ a flexible flow, allowing users to back up or skip questions. Show progress indicators to ensure you don’t lose users.
  • Never use questions that are clearly just for market research—they can torpedo the user trust.
  • In the case of technical products, different paths for the novice and advanced users may make sense: e.g., amateur versus professional photographers, beginner versus advanced skier or snowboarder.

EMULATE THE BEST SALES ASSOCIATES

Good sales associates will adjust their recommendations based on the answers the customer gives them. The tool needs to follow suit and educate the customer about their choice suggested for them. This is where marketing copy will be critically important.

GIVE OPTIONS FOR NEXT STEPS

What additional engagement options make sense for visitors to continue their journey after completing the guided selling experience? Place an order, of course—but what else? Print out their choices to take with them to the store? Contact you? Share with friends?

THE DIGITAL FUTURE:

SPOTLIGHT ON THE L’OREAL MAKEUP GENIUS

Conventional wisdom might hold that some things just aren’t meant to be sold online; items like, say, cosmetics, a historically high-touch sale where customer’s hands are held by “experts” who help them find just the right shade and demonstrate professional application techniques. Health and beauty has made a lot of progress in this area. 72% of US health and beauty brands now offer some form of guided selling on their websites – such as shade matchers for foundation or eyeshadow.3

L’Oreal is obliterating this conventional wisdom with a pioneering omni-channel approach to cosmetics sales. The L’Oreal Makeup Genius app uses a smartphone’s front-facing camera to apply different cosmetics and looks to an image of a customer’s face. Taking it a step further, a shopper in a drugstore can scan a barcode of a L’Oreal product and have the cosmetic similarly “applied” to the face, enabling shoppers to virtually try before they buy. This blending (not to mention the app’s “wow” factor) enables L’Oreal to create a distinct experience for existing customers while creating an enticing new digital channel for consumers who may be new to the brand. THE DIGITAL FUTURE: SPOTLIGHT ON THE L’OREAL MAKEUP GENIUS BEST PRACTICES FOR CREATING DIGITAL GUIDED SELLING EXPERIENCES 8 Note: Content

A tight relationship between the creative and content helps marry form and function, to create an engaging flow. Be sure these two groups work together and iteratively for the best result.
– Mark Moskal, Live Area Labs

BUILDING THE GUIDED SELLING TOOL

SITE EXPERIENCE

Once design is complete, web pages are developed based on wireframes. Address target form factors up front: desktop, tablet, and mobile. You will need to identify real estate for promoting the guided selling tool: Global navigation, category landing page and product detail pages will ensure the tool is visible across all steps of the purchase path.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DATA

Don’t forget the critical importance of product information. Finders and guided selling tools pivot off of attributes. The business team should map product attributes to the finder experience to make sure concepts can be effectively implemented. There may be a need to invest effort into cleaning up product information or enriching it with additional attributes – such as skin concern for a beauty finder or the skill level that maps to the features of a particular snowboard or ski product.

TEST, TEST, TEST

Most guided selling tools don’t undergo “beta” testing with live customers. That means some in-house testing with the merchandising team and a few sales associate guinea pigs.

MAXIMIZING RETURN

PROMOTION STRATEGIES

Showcase the new feature to existing customers through all marketing channels: email, social, the blog, etc. And don’t forget to search engine optimize the new feature!

WHAT’S NEXT?

MEASURE

Measure success metrics and promote them internally, especially to management stakeholders. This will help build the case for re-investment—either refining the tool further or creating new tools

CONSIDER ADDITIONAL USES

Developing a well-designed tool offers ancillary benefits as well as helping to achieve primary goals

  • Training: Support consistent messaging during in-store selling, particularly for new sales associate hires.
  • Customer feedback loop: User data captured on search patterns and customer responses can help inform marketing and product strategies.

CONCLUSION

Online guided selling gives retailers the opportunity to turn a website visit into a long-term customer relationship. By following the best practices discussed in this guide, retailers can create a guided selling tool that conveys to customers they understand their needs and wishes and can fulfill them with the product that best satisfies them. Guided selling, properly executed, creates a positive, sharable experience that distinguishes a brand from its competitors and builds trust that keeps customers loyal. Providing compelling experiences and cultivating loyalty are also winning strategies for differentiation from Amazon©.