Co-Founder and CEO at Akeneo, a leading product experience management (PXM) platform for corporate brands and retailers.
Everything else is just window dressing.
Here’s a bulletin from Planet Obvious: In today’s competitive retail environment, customer experience (CX) is kind of a big deal. Every merchant worth their salt now makes a point of thinking about the experience they’re trying to give their buyers, whether it’s a spritz of cologne in the air as a shopper first walks into your store, the carefully judged lighting that gleams off of your display cases or — in today’s online-first environment — the compelling web design and tasteful palette you use to showcase your brand.
That’s all well and good: Customers expect that kind of attention to detail, and merchants need to deliver. But it’s important to remember that most of what I’ve just described is really just window dressing. Sure, you need to put your best foot forward when you’re engaging your buyers — but you also need to remember that at the end of the day, they’re coming to you to buy a product.
When Product Experience (PX) Goes Wrong
That doesn’t mean the chatter about customer experience is worthless noise. But it does mean that merchants need to make a point of anchoring CX in product experience and paying close attention to the way that people experience and interact with their products as they prepare to make a purchase.
To understand why that’s so important, think first about what happens when a seller doesn’t pay attention to product experience. The shopper comes in and is dazzled by your cologne, your lighting, your background music and all the rest. Great. They’re halfway in love with your brand, and you’ve gotten them in the right headspace to make a purchase.
But now, the potential buyer has a question. Will your product work for a given use case? Is it compatible with the other product they bought from you last year? Is it available in a different color or size? All of this product information is absolutely key, because if you can’t provide it quickly and promptly — or, worse, if you offer the wrong answer — then you’ll wind up annoying, frustrating and disappointing them.
Such annoyances do real damage to brand relationships. In fact, according to Forrester (paywall), just 12% of consumers will advocate for a brand that’s subjected them to this kind of disappointment. Clearly, if you can’t get product experience right, all the other elements of your CX won’t count for much.
When PX Goes Right
Of course, good PX isn’t just a question of being able to produce accurate product information when it’s required. That’s table stakes, but the real goal is to use your product information to create rich, compelling experiences that will make it easier for customers not just to find the products they want but to fall in love with those products or even with your brand.
Think about what you’re trying to achieve when you showcase your products: The goal isn’t just to show shoppers what a given item looks like. It’s to captivate them and help them imagine themselves using your product to achieve whatever goals and aspirations they have for themselves.
A good PX strategy for an online retailer, then, might involve not just having a photo of your product on display but having a series of photos showing relatable people interacting with your product in a positive, goal-oriented way. If you’re selling tape measures, perhaps you’ll show someone measuring for a DIY project while their loved ones look on contentedly; if you’re selling laptops, perhaps you’ll show someone working happily in a cafe or using your product to ace a big presentation at work.
The key is to go beyond just information and think about how product information can evolve into content that evokes powerful, emotionally salient experiences. Photography is just one example: You can also use PX strategies to create videos that illustrate how products work in practice, to showcase case studies or customer testimonials that let shoppers see what your product can do for them or to provide easy access to user manuals, detailed specifications and even installation and delivery instructions.
PX In An Omnichannel World
This kind of PX obviously lends itself to the online retail experience, since it’s possible to syndicate content across your different touchpoints or to link from one hub out to many different kinds of rich media. But PX isn’t just a value-add for e-commerce sales funnels – it’s increasingly an essential part of the broader omnichannel customer experience.
Think how often real-world shoppers reach for their phone in order to check prices, find reviews or figure out whether the product they see in front of them is the same as the one they’d previously scouted out online. With a successful PX strategy, you can deliver powerful, consistent information and content that complements and enriches the in-person shopping experience — either driving real-world purchases or reengaging shoppers who might otherwise have walked away and prompting them to make an online purchase instead.
A good PX strategy also lets you empower your frontline workers. Perhaps a shopper mentions that they love a product but worry that it won’t fit in their home. Armed with proper PX tools, your sales associate can pull out a tablet and, with just a click or two, pull up the dimensions; offer a better-sized alternative that isn’t in the showroom; and show the customer images, videos or even 3-D simulations of what the product would look like in their home.
That sort of online/offline experience can’t be conjured up merely with snazzy web design or flashy in-person decor and displays — but it’s the kind of creative, tech-forward thinking we need to thrill buyers in the new world of omnichannel commerce. We increasingly live in an omnichannel world, and product information — or, better yet, product experience — is the connective tissue that will enable merchants to fuse online and offline touchpoints into a compelling and satisfying CX that’s truly greater than the sum of its parts.
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