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Things to know
Author: AstoundCommerce
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After 20 Years. Here Are The Ecommerce Standards That Stick

Ecommerce has come a long way since 1996 — the year the e-tailing group, now part of Astound Commerce, began publishing its annual mystery shopping reports.

Looking back at the last 20 years of ecommerce, the latest report from Astound Commerce, 20/20 Vision: Looking Forward by Looking Back at 20 Years of Digital Shopping Information, illustrates how brands have evolved to meet customer demands for convenience, personalization, transparency and more – as fast as technology could keep up.

Two decades of close analysis of the leading ecommerce brands have revealed the standards that now shape the online shopping experience we know today. Of the 281 metrics we measured, 10 have emerged as almost universally offered by the top 100 retailers today. A few of my favorites include:

Live Chat Options

Many customers dread calling customer service with questions, but sometimes having a conversation is necessary. For instant answers and increased convenience, market leaders began experimenting with live chat options to connect with customers directly, without requiring them to call or wait on the phone. While only 23 percent used live chat options in 2001, 76 percent offer the option today.

The next step? Proactive chat, which offers customers assistance before they even have to ask. While slightly less than a quarter currently support proactive chat options, this number will grow as brands look for ways to make life easier for customers.

Advanced Search Capabilities

As shoppers spend more time on mobile, they want to instantly find the products they are looking for, without always browsing through your whole catalog. And 87 percent of retailers make it even easier for shoppers, with type-ahead suggestions that prompt users with the specific products they might be looking for. In 2009, this advanced option was only offered on 15 percent of retailer websites.

This option is critical, since it allows customers to find products in as few clicks as possible, streamlining the path to purchase. Retailers should also include product visuals that appear even in the search bar to increase convenience for browsing shoppers.

Engaging, Informative Content

In the early days of ecommerce, the products were front-and-center, with customers mainly comparing based on price and features. Now, as customers choose from endless options of competing products, the best retailers are using compelling and educational content to stand out. And that number is on the raise — 75 percent of retailers now implement content marketing strategies, compared to less than half in 2008.

DIY guides, how-tos, video content and more are popular and effective ways to not only feature products, but engage customers and involve them with brands in more intimate ways. Market leaders that excite customers with interesting, useful content find more success getting shoppers invested in their products long term.

It’s been a pleasure to watch retailers evolve their digital offerings from sometimes rough beginnings characterized by clunky interfaces and limited features to customer-focused, engaging experiences. The next 20 years are sure to bring more innovation as retailers strive to provide convenient, more personal and exciting ways to engage customers further, throughout the path to purchase and beyond.

- Written by Lauran Freedman, Astound Commerce