Let’s start with an uncomfortable truth: e-commerce companies stink at being human.
Not all of them of course. Standouts do exist. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of e-commerce businesses … it’s a losing battle.
The symptoms of inhuman e-commerce are easy to recognize: cliche-ridden business-speak, flat product images, hard-sell check-out pages, poor customer service and copy that reads like it was composed with an algorithm whose only input was “product details and specifications.”
It’s hard to sell to humans when you’re not being a human yourself.
However, despite these all-too-common pitfalls, there is hope. Building genuine relationships with customers comes down to what’s called conversational e-commerce. And becoming conversational means reinvigorating two areas your e-commerce company is already invested in: social media and product pages.
1. Stop Dumping and Dominating on Social Media
E-commerce companies make two fatal mistakes on social media. One: they simply dump all their regular onsite content onto a Facebook page. Or two: they dominate their social stream with product-focused promotions.
Both practices — dumping and dominating — scare away customers.
Social means social. Few places are as ripe for humanizing your e-commerce brand as social media, as long as you know how.
Chubbies Shorts’ Winning Tone
Take Chubbies Shorts as an example. With 1.5 million Facebook fans and over 272,000 Instagram followers, social media has been a linchpin of Chubbies’ e-commerce success. But that doesn’t mean its stream is packed with discounts, promotion codes and new product releases.
Quite the opposite. A quick survey of Chubbies Facebook page reveals just how relational its posting regime truly is:
When they do get “short related,” even those posts smack of personality and flavor:
With every update, Chubbies does exactly what you’re supposed to do on social media: it talks. And then … its customers respond.
Just because Chubbies takes this tone doesn’t mean it isn’t concerned with commerce.
One of Chubbies more stealthy expressions of conversational commerce is its adoption of Facebook Messenger. Rather than rely on email as its default confirmation process, Chubbies sends its Facebook customers direct messages, complete with its usual style and voice.
Naturally, social chat tools like Facebook Messenger have their own human and inhuman sides. And the dangers — as well as the sometimes unintended hilarity — of the latter are very much real.
Your social media presence as an e-commerce company should be a reflection of your brand. Avoid the temptation to dump in content from your own website or to dominate your stream with pitches and promotions.
Instead, live up to to the name — be social.
2. Just Because It’s a Product Page Doesn’t Mean It Has to Be Boring
Unlike social media, your product pages may not sound like an obvious place for conversational commerce.
After all, if social media represents top-of-funnel content — where all the fun stuff happens — then product pages are about as bottom of the funnel as you can get. Shouldn’t product page be all business?
In fact, two humanizing elements are missing from nearly all product pages: 1) customer-generated content and 2) customer-centric stories.
Show Products in Real Life
Customer generated content (also known as user-generated content) encompasses a host of things like reviews, ratings, endorsements and visuals. Most e-commerce stores do a solid job with the first three elements, but neglect the last.
People respond to people. So while using a professional, high-quality product image may seem logical, it does nothing to connect emotionally to your would-be customer, not to mention make you more trustworthy.
When customers were given the choice between user-generated images — like Instagram photos — and professional images, they overwhelmingly chose user generated.
Anyone steeped in e-commerce best practices may find that borderline sacrilegious. Why do “customer photos” so far outrank “professional” photos?
The reason, explained Tomer Tagrin, CEO of Yotpo, again comes down to being human: “When you’re selling products online, people miss the ability to see and feel the products up close. Images, especially real ones from actual customers, help people understand what your products are like in real life.”
Storytelling Makes the Customer the Hero
Stories are the other half of product pages that e-commerce neglects.
And what’s the secret? Make customers the hero.
Every one of us dreams of being the prince or princess of a fairytale. Even as adults, customers want to vanquish the dragon and ride off into the sunset. In e-commerce terms, your customer has a mission (i.e., a goal). Along the way, they run into a problem: an adversary.
As a business, it isn’t your place to be the hero. Your place is to support your customer. Be their trusty sword, cutting through the frustration to help them solve the problem and reach the goal.
LootCrate does a great job of making its customers the hero. Its LootPets crate showcases this.
The LootPets crate saves owners the trip to the pet store with monthly packages of dog gear. Notice that the people and the pets are both visually — and in the copy — the heroes of the page. They’re the main characters and all LootCrate does is help them reach the goal they already want. Even better, the page also uses customer generated photos of dogs with their loot:
Restore Your E-Commerce Humanity
It’s true: most e-commerce companies stink at being human.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. By recognizing the symptoms and focusing on two areas that you’ve already invested in — social media and product pages — you can reinvigorate your brand with conversational e-commerce.
Aaron Orendorff is a contributor at Inc., The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, Shopify Plus and more. You can grab Aaron’s Content Creation Checklist at iconiContent — where he’s busy “Saving the World from Bad Content” — or connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.