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Basket case – driving e-commerce from bland boredom to brand stardom

By / / In Insight /
How do brands driving e-commerce sales entice browsers and get their products ‘off the shelf’, given the vast array of competition and the mundane way many products are displayed in the sterile online shop environment? Behavioural science is the key for brands facing that problem, says Andrew Watts, and marketers and their brands should master that science in order to win sales. Here’s how it works:
online spend , Buying online

For decades, the retailer has held the balance of power in terms of how brands are able to distribute, display and price their goods. The same is not only true of UK grocery platforms – the websites where we do our weekly grocery shop, for example – but challenges in the online retail environment are mounting for brands the world over.

At best, marketers are forced to use characterless pack shots that say nothing of the emotion imbued in the wider brand strategy. Think of the bewildering array of cheese or chocolate or water on offer when perusing those products and you’ll instantly conjure up images of virtually indistinguishable items. Bored or frustrated, you’ll likely plump for the cheapest option or default to the same thing you bought in your the last ten visits. So much for choice.

Admitting there’s a problem

Barriers to brands’ e-commerce success broadly fall under four universally true headings:

  • Crazy consumers: The digital purchase journey is not linear or predictable; choice of sites to browse is vast, as is the range of products on offer
  • Big data, little use: E-commerce retailers can’t provide brands with comprehensive information on how their brands are purchased; available data makes it hard to get a handle on why shoppers do what they do online
  • Budget blindness: Brands can only guess at where best to invest their e-commerce marketing budgets
  • Channel confusion: Brands can’t tell what is the most effective messaging for marketing activity in each media environment.

Across Europe, meanwhile, marketers face the additional obstacle of the introduction of GDPR. The upcoming legislation will throw the spotlight on how much data is retained and used by brands and retailers. Thanks to new consumer opt-in strictures and their right to have their data records forgotten, the ultimate consequence could mean the end of historical data being used to inform marketing activity. The death of personalisation could be upon us.

Against this background, brands are commonly asking themselves three questions:

  1. What’s the role of my website in driving e-commerce traffic and sales?
  2. How do I make my social channels link to e-commerce more effectively?
  3. Where do I spend my digital advertising budget?

Above all, brands need to find a way to run activity that grabs shoppers’ attention in a memorable, effective way, while staying within the restrictions imposed by the e-commerce platform providers.

Driving e-commerce: understand consumer behaviour

Fortunately, there is a way forward.

Brands should concentrate on understanding consumer purchasing behaviour, rather than personalisation using data that ignores the factors leading to the purchase decision in the first place. We are currently analysing millions of online transactions to understand patterns of purchase and the position of specific brands within them.

To comprehend consumer behaviour, brands and retailers could benefit from investing in understanding the science of heuristics. There are 128 heuristics and, working with Durham University Business School in the UK, we have identified the nine most relevant to purchase decisions. We call these Sales Triggers. They provide a framework which makes behavioural science usable, shaping messaging and marketing activity to help brands and retailers sell.

At its heart, the planning model seeks to dig deeper into the types of customer behaviour that are driving purchase by understanding the modes of shopping that consumers are in. 

Persuading trigger-happy shoppers to buy your brand

There are three main digital environments that your brand can use to drive traffic to e-commerce sales: its website, digital media and social channels. By mapping your brand’s key values and benefits to consumer purchase behaviour, each of these digital environments can be made more effective by different Sales Triggers:

  • Brand Budgeting: This Sales Trigger could be used to frame price in a way that justifies purchase. For example, ‘For only 25p one small pot of yogurt brand X contains a third of your child’s daily calcium needs.’
  • Social Proof: The way product reviews are presented on social media channels can also be very effective in driving traffic. Nielsen research identified that 83% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and peers over all forms of advertising.
  • Choice Reduction: This can be delivered by using your brand’s website to help clearly demonstrate the different benefits of a large product range. Behavioural science experiments have demonstrated that presenting consumers with a choice of more than six items leads to indecision and a reversion to current purchase habits. In addition, the less choice consumers are presented with, the better they feel about their purchase decision.

There is a strong case for using different triggers in specific digital environments to make the most of your marketing spend in each channel. Our creative messaging research will go a long way to proving that each channel should be treated separately, and the old model of relying on one umbrella idea to sit across all media environments is no longer relevant.

driving e-commerceWe have demonstrated this through our work on digital ‘shop-in-shop’ for Samsung. It was developed exclusively to feature in more than 50 electrical retailers’ e-commerce platforms. We designed and built immersive content to clearly demonstrate the key features of the Samsung TV/AV range, simplifying consumer choice and guiding them through a considered purchase. The results have been impressive, driving significant online sales.

A future where behavioural science will drive brand choice

Behavioural science can be the new weapon for brands tackling the ongoing challenge of driving e-commerce sales. By segmenting and testing the messaging used in the three key channels that link to e-commerce, brands can identify which is the most effective way to tailor their marketing activity.

We are heading for marketing that employs different messaging for different media environments, with highly effective tactical executions replacing the ‘one big idea’ approach across all channels.

Brands demand new, more powerful ways to connect with consumers. We believe we’ve discovered a way to demonstrate understanding of the thought processes people go through at every stage of the purchase journey. This can only help brands driving e-commerce to stand out and thrive in a sterile e-commerce environment that is ripe for change.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Read also:

Are 7 interactions optimal for driving maximum basket revenue for retailers?

The e-commerce marketer’s new best friends: behavioural science and 9 key sales triggers



Andrew Watts
Author: Andrew Watts
Founding partner at KHWS – The Brand Commerce Agency |

Andrew Watts is one of three founding partners at KHWS. With almost three decades of experience, Andrew is a committed and creative marketer. KHWS is an independent agency, Built over 24 years, with 125 passionate marketers dedicated to delivering campaigns for clients such as Samsung, Heathrow Express and ASK Italian. They aim to create campaigns that combine the emotional power of brand marketing with the commercial awareness of sales marketing, to turn online and offline interactions into transactions at the earliest possible opportunity. Andrew Watts is also a big cricket fan!

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