Customers shopping in the modern consumer market are relying on digital tools more than ever to learn about brands and make purchasing decisions. A survey from McKinsey & CompanySM found that there was a 15-30% increase in the number of consumers buying online in different product categories since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For businesses operating in this environment, a digital storefront is no longer a luxury — it is essential to building brand awareness, reaching new customers and driving success.
The importance of a digital storefront in the modern business environment
Your digital storefront is more than simply your website — it is your business’s online representation to the world. Many customers — even those who prefer to shop in person — will interact with your brand for the first time online. Just like clean windows, neat inventory selections and colorful displays attract customers to physical storefronts, some customers will make assumptions about your business based on the quality of your website.
Because your digital storefront is so central to the success of your business, you need to maintain it with the same level of care, detail and attention that you do your physical storefront. That means it needs to be clutter-free and easy to use, and customers should be able to find all of the information they need quickly. Today’s consumers have extraordinarily high standards, so every misplaced landing page, additional checkout step and extra second of waiting increases the likelihood of them becoming frustrated and clicking out of your page.
The importance of the digital storefront has been amplified by the pandemic. Lockdowns and closures forced many customers to rely more heavily on online channels to access the products and services they love, and many of them are not going back. The same McKinseySM survey mentioned above found that 40% of consumers tried a new shopping method at the start of the pandemic, and 73% of them intend to keep it. It is now essential that businesses invest in the quality of their digital storefronts to attract (and retain) customers.
The essentials of a quality digital storefront
While successful digital storefronts employ a variety of methods, the most effective ones share a number of core qualities. These are the essential components you should prioritize to ensure you stay competitive in a crowded online market:
- Efficient payments: Every second customers spend trying to make a payment increases the likelihood of them abandoning their shopping cart. Some of the steps you can take to make your payment process more efficient include accepting multiple payment methods, not requiring customers to create an account to shop, and investing in a high-quality payment gateway for more efficient backend processing.
- Arresting imagery: Although many customers will buy from you directly online, others will make decisions about your physical storefront based on your website. This is especially true for businesses in which physical storefronts are still an essential part of their business, like restaurants. It is important to include high-resolution, quality photos of your physical location and inventory, doing your best to accurately capture the ambience and customer experience.
- User-friendly navigation: You should design your digital storefront with easy navigability at the core. Users should be able to find the information they are looking for within a few seconds, and they should not have to click through multiple pages to get there. A prominently displayed navigation bar at the top of the screen should provide links to just about every main landing page on your website.
- In-demand calls to action: Ultimately, users are coming to your website to do something. Whether that is buying a new product, making a return, contacting your team or looking for relevant information, you should include clear calls to action throughout all your landing pages. This makes it easy for customers to take action as soon as they have made their decision, no matter what page they are currently navigating.
- Mobile-friendly interface: Many online shoppers are interacting with brands through their mobile devices, and a mobile-friendly interface is now the hallmark of the modern, digitally savvy brand. In fact, a report from data.aiTM found that 60% of consumers prefer shopping on their mobile device. It is important that your interface is easily accessible and navigable on mobile devices to optimize this essential channel.
The “nice to haves” for your digital storefront
The challenge of managing a successful business in an online world is that you are not just competing with companies in your immediate locale — you are up against every other business with an online presence. That means it is critical you go beyond the essentials and transform your website into a digital storefront that truly stands out.
Here are a few nice-to-have components of an exceptional digital storefront:
- In-page search navigation: Some websites simply have too many pages to easily tuck all of them into the navigation bar at the top of your page. An in-page search bar allows users to easily search for the exact terms, keywords and information they’re looking for within your website, without having to dig through a website with which they are likely unfamiliar.
- Trust signals and social proof: Trust is one of the hallmarks of a successful online shopping experience, and customers are more likely to give you their business if they feel they can trust you. It is important to showcase trust signals like prominent brands you work with, 4- and 5-star ratings, and customer reviews/testimonials to establish credibility. Of course, it might be hard to include this information if you are a newer company, so you should
- Social media links: Social media is an important component of today’s successful digital storefront, serving as a key driver of brand awareness and customer engagement. In fact, according to research conducted by Sprout SocialSM, 77% of customers are more willing to buy from a brand after a positive experience on social media. Not only should you be linking to each of your social media accounts on your website (demonstrating your omnichannel presence), but you also need to be posting to each of those accounts on a regular basis.
- Content marketing: Not every potential customer is coming to your page to make a purchase. Some of them are simply looking for information about a compelling topic. It is a good idea to create and maintain an active blog to share news, insights and other helpful information about your industry. This helps to establish your brand as a thought leader in the space, building a foundation of trust for when potential customers are actually in the market.
What to avoid when designing your digital storefront
The customer experience should serve as your north star when designing your website. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and take the time to navigate the website yourself, identifying any user experience (UX) pitfalls that might detract from a great customer experience. Some common mistakes to avoid include:
- Slow loading time.
- Complicated check out process.
- Low image quality.
- Excessive or imprecise product descriptions.
- Unclear or valueless content.
- Lack of customer service options.
Of course, your website is an ongoing work in progress. Your developers are constantly making software updates, marketers are adding new content and UX designers are making tweaks to the layout. With so many moving parts and adjustments taking place — often asynchronously — quality and functionality might suffer.
In addition to actually using the website yourself, it is important to periodically test the main components of your website from a UX standpoint by observing how users are interacting with the site (this is known as website usability testing). This could help you understand exactly what aspects of your website are working properly and which ones are not, helping you pinpoint areas for improvement.
Transform your digital storefront with Comerica Bank
Whether you are operating an e-commerce business or a traditional brick-and-mortar store with an online presence, a substantial portion of your interactions with customers will likely take place online. For that reason, it is critical that you are devoting the time and resources needed to build a robust and attractive digital storefront capable of providing a great customer experience to users.
At Comerica Bank, our team is here to help small businesses accelerate their digital transformation and build deeper relationships with customers. Contact us to learn more.