The concept of advising shoppers is as old as trade itself. In fact, it is one of its major cornerstones and main functions. Business has always been about matching customers to the right product for their individual situations and needs (How Valuable Product Advice Beats Common Search Methods).
In traditional commerce, this role was and is usually fulfilled by a broker, a store associate who takes the time to understand your needs, addresses your concerns, and answers your questions about a product to recommend the most suitable item in stock. With e-commerce and the increasing availability of digital sources to aid consumers in their purchasing decisions, this traditional matchmaker-role has changed:
Today’s digital shoppers are more informed and don’t necessarily rely on a store associate to reach a purchase decision. They want to discover products on their own and reach decisions themselves — however, 83% need support and 93% of these consider real-time help useful during their online journey.
It would be a mistake if retailers or brands used the changed decision-making process as an excuse for not offering advice and guidance, and solely relied on 3rd parties like blogs, friends, and family, or forums to do this job for them. Armando Roggio, a contributing editor for Practical Ecommerce, concludes in his article Could Guided Selling Help Your E-commerce Store? that integrating Guided Selling can “help businesses improve conversion rates, reduce returns, and earn loyal, repeat shoppers”. Therefore, using Guided Selling and (more specifically) digital product advice, given the consumer’s craving for interactivity and quick results, shouldn’t just be an afterthought. It should be an integral and essential part of your store’s customer service offering!
For a couple of years now, I’m noticing a rise in the number of businesses getting hip to Guided Selling. They’re trying to help their visitors to quickly identify the right products for their needs. In fact, last year alone, I came across well over 50 interactive advisors in product categories as diverse as mattresses, coffee, clothes, laptops, cars, banking products, cameras or strollers.
Check out more examples of Guided Selling in varied product categories.
But where do you get started and how? Should you put your IT on the job of creating your interactive advisors or leverage existing technologies to get it done? Let’s look at some pros and cons to consider:
Building a Guided Selling Solution?
A custom built interactive product advisor allows you to customize it to the exact specifications you need. You’ll be able to save money by leaving out unnecessary features, while also including features not supported by standard technologies.
However, hard-coding a solution from scratch can be an expensive endeavor. It requires a serious time commitment as well as skilled developers to build it, maintain it, and offer support to other employees who will want to use it or make adaptations.
In addition, your developers will need the foresight and expertise to build a solution that is able to provide the reliable decision-support users expect. Delayed deadlines, exceeded budgets, and subpar results are crucial risks to consider. According to the recent CHAOS report by the Standish Group, the success rate of software development projects is as low as 29% — a rate that drops to 2% depending on the project size.
Due to the knowledge and skills involved in designing an effective quality solution (consumer behavior, UX design, IT and data management, (Mobile) Interface design etc), your developers will need a wide array of expertise, which may have very little to do with your company’s core competencies.
|Full control over the features and software development – You can specify exactly which elements you want to include.||High initial investment and commitment (time, resources and talent) – Home-grown solutions usually take 90% longer until deployment and have a low success rate. Apart from the development costs, you may need to shell out money for hosting and maintenance.|
|Highly personalized design – You can fit the look and feel to be exactly like you want it. No catering to pre-created layouts or code — fit it in perfectly with your brand.||Reduced scalability and flexibility – Hard-coding product advisors instead of using a standard technology can limit your capabilities, such as expanding to additional product categories or languages.|
|Ownership of the software code – You own all rights to the source code and can do with it as you please.||Ongoing cost for development, testing, adapting to market changes, etc. – For your solution to be effective and successful, you have to consider adapting it to a variety of changing environmental factors long after the initial development was completed; for example, including new products as well as adding, removing, and changing some of the questions or underlying logic.|
Using a Standard Guided Selling Software?
Instead of having your IT-team hard-code interactive product advisors, you can invest in an off-the-shelf Guided Selling software to get a solution that’s ready to go out of the box.
Marketing, CX and design teams can use the software to create interactive product advisors without programming skills or having to involve IT teams. Instead of fumbling around with building core functionalities (which are already built into sophisticated Guided Selling technology platforms), you can leverage a standard software and focus on designing the perfect advice experience for maximum customer engagement as well as quicker business results.
Guided Selling software vendors often have their own customer service and success management teams, training and innovation departments as well as a larger base of dedicated developers who focus solely on making it easier to get the job done quickly. This frees up time and resources to be spent on developing your own core competencies, strengthening what you’re already good at. With popular or market-leading products, it’s likely that there is also already a community of other businesses and agencies who share their know-how and best practices.
Standard enterprise solutions are designed to grow businesses and you’ll gain access to some features you may have never even thought of had you built it yourself; things like integrations with existing solutions, A/B split testing, analytics, automation, or even translation functionalities.
The main downside to using a standard technology is that some may have limitations and restrictions that you have to invest in tailoring your digital advisors to your unique requirements.
|Reduced project timeline, budget, and faster ROI – Investing in a software license usually means reduced financial commitment and project risk. You don’t have to hard-code, which means you also don’t have to worry about fixing it yourself if something breaks or isn’t done right. Additionally, you’ll see an ROI faster because your product advisors will be up faster.||Limited options to tailor to unique needs – The platform of your choice may not include specific features you need, which could limit you or may require customization to make it fit your organization’s needs.|
|Higher success rate scalability and tested functionalities – Standard solutions are made to grow as your business grows. These come with varied features and functionalities that cater to the needs and requirements of different businesses and they’re usually easier to maintain, extend and enhance.||Rely on vendor’s support to resolve issues – You can’t simply go in and fix or extend the code yourself. You have to go through the vendor.|
|Access to expertise and best practices for higher conversion rates – Because the vendor has already been testing and refining the software, ideally for years, to figure out the highest converting variables, you’ll be able to use most up-to-date capabilities, leverage best practices to create optimized product advisors, and start with an advantage.||Vendor retains rights to the code – Because you’re paying to use a vendor solution, they may retain certain rights.|
Hard-coding interactive product advisors and leveraging a standard Guided Selling software both have their pros and cons. Ten years ago, the first option was your only option. Today, there are viable, proved and tested enterprise-level solutions, which often make custom development no longer necessary — the total cost of hard-coded solutions can far exceed their potential return on investment. Just remember how, when the Internet and e-commerce took off, setting up and managing an online shop required a lot of heavy lifting and coding. Now, with hosted e-commerce platforms and CMS technologies, this is almost unheard of.
It all comes down to whether or not you have the resources to build your product advisors from the ground up. Is it worth investing your time to build a custom solution, or is your IT’s time better spent on your core? These questions are for you to answer.
Let us know what you think in the comments — do you build or buy? If you found this article helpful, be sure to share it with others it may help.