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The Gap Between eCommerce Features and Functionality is Getting Wider

The gap between features and functionality

It’s a common syndrome in eCommerce: conversion rates are stagnant or falling, bounce rates are rising, and repeat customers are becoming fewer and farther between. And it’s all because your site has fewer up-to-date or consumer-pleasing features compared to your competitors in the marketplace.

Online shoppers — both B2C and B2B — are always looking for the next feature that will make their buying experience easier, faster, or more pleasant. When a retailer implements a feature that makes buying more convenient, buyers notice. And they tell other consumers.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for retailers to implement new features on their eCommerce platforms. In fact, it often seems as though there’s an inverse relationship between how convenient a feature makes the buying experience and how easy it is for a seller to implement it.

Here’s the rub: the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. That’s because the gap between features and the functionalities required to field them is, for many small- and mid-market eCommerce companies, getting wider. The features consumers demand are indeed becoming more difficult to build and maintain.

Evolution can sometimes reach a dead-end.

In biology, there comes a point when an organism evolves to its maximum potential. If its environment rapidly changes, such an organism may not be able to adapt and survive. The organism has reached a dead-end, and it dies out.

The eCommerce industry has reached just such an “inflection point,” says Forbes contributor Louis Columbus. Some early platforms simply can no longer evolve to the point that they would need to, to keep up with next-generation solutions and to keep from falling behind.

“Just as AltaVista, Netscape, Yahoo and others first delivered search and low-end web apps that revolutionized how the Internet was used, Google and Facebook took the revolution a step further and created born-in-the-Internet apps, platforms, and services,” he wrote.

“The same revolution is happening right now in e-commerce. Born-in-the-cloud e-commerce systems are innovating at a pace that outdistances legacy, on-premise systems. The inflection point is most visible in how quickly user experiences, support for multi-tier distribution selling, advanced pricing and order workflows are improving.”

If businesses selling online want to hang on to their customers, they need to find a way to bridge the feature/functionality gap, fast, and stay on the innovation envelope. For marketing and technology directors, this means remaining judicious about where and when to spend resources on a new feature.

Should You Build It? A Decision Checklist.

There are 6 questions to ask before shelling out for a new, in-demand feature. Let’s take a moment to examine them:

1. Does it fit your vision?

If a currently-in-demand feature doesn’t mesh well with the direction you envision taking your business , forego it. If it’s a feature that consumers are going to demand in the future, concentrate on shifting your business paradigm before attempting to field new features.

2. Can you articulate the problem this feature would solve for your customers?

Is the feature something that truly improves the consumer experience, or is it just today’s “shiny object?” If you test and can’t determine how the feature makes the shopping experience better, leave it alone and move on. Fad features don’t translate into long-term sales gains, and expending resources to keep up with them means that you’ll have fewer resources available when you have a real problem to solve.

3. What does “success” look like for the customer?

That depends, of course, on whether we’re talking about your B2C or B2B customers. Or does it? For some time now, we’ve seen a decidedly digital shift occurring in the B2B sales environment. Commercial customers are increasingly executing their purchases through digital channels. And they’re demanding the same ease of consumer experience in their work transactions as they do sitting at home and shopping online as everyday consumers.

4. Will it matter in 3 years?

Again, you need to ask yourself whether this feature is just today’s fad, or if it’s something that fundamentally changes the consumer experience enough that we expect it to last. There have been plenty of features, like 360-product viewing, that hit the marketplace and make a splash with tech reviewers, but fail to increase conversion rates. By contrast, less flashy features like predictive cross-selling and advanced payment features are proving invaluable to retailers by boosting AOV and reducing bounces.

5. Will it benefit everyone or just a few?

If the feature is so niche that only a select handful of the consumers who make up your audience would want it or find it useful, you can likely forego it without regret, assuming of course that this group is not made up of your best customers. Adopting a whole-population best consumer management approach will yield far more in increased revenue than chasing marginal returns from small, outlying customer segments that buy in small amounts and infrequently.  

6. Will it improve your business results?

If there is no supporting data to suggest a feature will improve your metrics, it is, at best, a “nice to have.” Keep an eye on your testing analytics.  If the supporting data shows up, only then make an agile course change and dedicate the resources to make it happen.  

B2B eCommerce is rapidly growing. Is your portal ready to meet your consumers’ feature demands?

According to Forrester, B2B eCommerce account for 12.1% of all B2B sales in the US by 2020, with an estimated total yearly value in excess of $1.1 trillion.

Sellers need to stay well informed about which features improve their buyers’ experiences, what functionalities they would need to build to support those features, and be prepared to invest in new build-outs as appropriate.

Is your company ready?

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