Forget the E in E-Commerce

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Every organization wants to create that desired, lasting bond with customers. Devoting the time and energy necessary to maintain and develop the relationship between you and your customers is just a small price to pay for a large reward. But if you only focus on the digital aspect (e-commerce), the deep connection with consumers might be suffering. We shouldn’t solely focus on the digital approach or put technology at the centre, we should instead incorporate the elements that bond us together with our customers. This also means breaking conventions.

E-commerce currently seems to revolve around optimizing websites, but why is there still a distinction being made between digital and physical trade? Virtually all businesses engage with their customers with some sort of omnichannel focus: brick-and-mortar, your e-commerce site, online marketplaces, etc. The “e” in “e-commerce” is completely unnecessary when everything already boils down to commerce. This is illustrative of the fact that we lose sight of what really matters: the customer relationship.

Physical and digital trade go hand-in-hand together; it’s much more than agonizing over microcopy during the check-out process or trying to determine whether or not this button should be blue or green. No, the core of the work is about cultivating a relationship with your customers, ensuring that they even want to visit your (web)shop in the first place.

Trying to position yourself to stand out as much as possible, and only then focusing on technology, means that everything you do will end up looking alike. Take a look at car insurance policies: everyday SEO practices dictates that the primary keyword is always a synonym of the word “cheap.” Whether it’s affordable, or low-cost, or economical, there’s little distinction or difference to be found. When everyone does everything exactly the same way, the final result is consumers running around in endless circles.

It makes no sense to show their brand

Take a look at our client Alcon, a subsidiary of Novartis. They offer daily and monthly contact lenses, at different levels of comfort. Their primary pain point is that, while their products may be successful, few (if any) of their customers even know that they’re wearing Alcon lenses. This poses a unique issue for Alcon: to get new clients in. It’s clear that showing off brand names is pointless; instead, Alcon realized that they would have to visually and viscerally immerse people into the world of contact lenses.

To do just that, Alcon created the website,, and many other regional variants. These webshops function as the starting point for people who need to know more about lenses, as well as to convince them to try them.

Hard approach doesn’t work

Three main target groups were addressed with this strategy. First, you have those who’d never worn lenses before and need ample, detailed information inorder to immerse them into the world of lenses. Then you have those who get their contacts, feel discomfort, but believe they need to tough it out since “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.” Lastly, those individuals who have deteriorating eyesight, and need to be informed that multifocal lenses are an option so they can switch from their glasses.

In other words, a “hard, online-only” approach is pointless. The products (and the target groups) are not that simple, and Alcon had a daring strategy to help their target groups get the eyesight relief that they need: To not mention the brand or product names at all until they reached the sweet spot where their users actually cared about their brand. So with the relaunch of their website, the aim was not on conversion, but instead information. By treating it as a service, rather than a funnel, they were able to direct their users from their website, to the store, and then back to their website.

Translating digital to physical

Alcon implemented a peer-based model, where other users could visually share their experience (via testimonials, trial videos, etc.). Potential new users could visually grasp the concept of their possible new purchase. Of course, an eye test is needed to determine which type of lens is best for you, which is where a discount is offered as an incentive. But there was still a moment of translating from the digital (downloading the voucher on your computer or laptop) to the physical (going to the bricks-and-mortar store). This is a part of the process that still needs fine-tuning; based on the target group, the communication used needs to connect to the potential user (e.g., with those new to lenses, providing detailed information).

Future-proof brand

This begs the question: Is this all e-commerce? Definitely not. All of the above can be applied to dozens of other brands using multi-channel approaches to target their customers. This is how brands become future-proof. The first step is to tell a meaningful, honest story, build a relationship with your customers, and then convert them. Instead of being like and manipulating your customers into (temporarily) converting, take the road less traveled and build a lasting, deeper connection with your clients. That, by far, is much more complicated than determining what microcopy to use, but the payoff is incomparable.

I don’t believe in shortcuts. As soon as the competition can copy your product or service, you’ll need to find another way to undercut them. So you need to deeply know what your customer needs, where they are, and how to find them. How do you get--and keep--your product in the minds and hearts of people? By focusing on the story you want to tell. That’ll make all the difference in the world. Your website will be just fine, I promise.

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