Contributor Tim Ash explores the finer points of winning buyers’ trust, and eventually their dollars, for high-consideration purchases online.
Much has been written — and perfected — about e-commerce conversion optimization. But the tried and true methods that work for retailers of normal, everyday commodities don’t always apply to those selling big-ticket items.
In fact, selling high-end products and services online requires an understanding that the customer journey for this type of transaction is altogether different from that for everyday e-commerce.
People think and behave differently when buying cheap vs. pricey items, and the customer journey for big-ticket or high-value items is actually more similar to B2B sales than B2C.
If you’re trying to sell high-end fashion, cars, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, retirement living or any other expensive item online, here are five conversion optimizing tips to help move more buyers through your conversion funnel.
Optimize Information Channels
Regardless of their socioeconomic status, people follow a more complex information gathering cycle when they’re considering the purchase of an expensive item.
They’re looking not only for information about their desired product, but also for a 360-degree view of other alternatives, comments from past purchasers, and validation that this purchase won’t end in buyer’s remorse. So it’s important to accept the reality that buyers won’t only be looking at your website but will be using a lot of other external sources to satisfy their information needs.
You’ve got to understand your potential buyers and their lifestyle habits in order to anticipate which other channels – both online and offline – they’re likely to use to collect information. Optimization at this stage includes ongoing monitoring of the conversations that are happening around your product or service, and even participating in conversations when appropriate.
You’ll need to be present wherever your customers and prospects are, because for many high-end purchases customers won’t even make contact with you until much later in their purchase journey, once they’ve completed their research and are ready to commit to the purchase.
A majority of car buyers, for instance, only visit the dealership after they already know which vehicle they want (including exact color and specifications), how much they want to pay, whether the dealer has the vehicle in stock and how they intend to finance the purchase.
Of course, optimizing your own site for the insatiable information needs of your prospective customer is equally important. If you’re selling cars, for instance, you need to make sure that your website goes way beyond simply listing the usual details on product description, pricing, and specifications.
It should also include reviews from car enthusiasts and owners, links or reviews of financing providers, build-your-car wizards that help buyers customize their dream car, and maybe even a discussion forum that helps potential buyers connect with owners of the same or similar vehicles.
Regardless of your product or service, develop a content strategy for your owned channels and wider networks of social media and blog sites to support informed decision-making for your prospects.
Remove Psychological Barriers
Here’s a little-known fact: most shoppers unconsciously adopt a “fight or flight” stance at the very thought of parting with their money. The human brain is faster at identifying threats than anticipating a reward, so the possibility of making a bad purchase decision can literally put someone into a panic mode — they may not be conscious of it, but it’s real all the same.
Naturally, this response is especially pronounced for major purchase decisions like choosing a nursing home for a parent, so it’s important to understand that customers will need a lot of reassuring in order to move toward conversion.
The very real fear of a purchase decision ending in buyer’s remorse can be paralyzing, and optimization requires a deep understanding of the customer’s specific anxieties so that you can address those before they cost you the sale.
This means that on top of the basic trust-building required for any successful e-commerce transaction, you also need to constantly reassure your potential customers that they won’t be making a costly mistake when they decide to buy from you.
This is where striking the right balance between brand messaging and authenticity can really help. Remember, high-cost items have traditionally been bought in face-to-face situations, often over the course of several meetings or discussions so that a relationship is built.
Your website needs to be the proxy for those conversations, and communicating the “human” qualities of your company will go a long way in helping buyers develop a good gut feeling about buying from you.
Whatever you’re selling, anticipate all possible sources of resistance that could be paralyzing your potential visitors from making the big decision, and develop tools and content that chip away at these psychological barriers.
A key similarity between B2B and high-ticket consumer purchases is the relatively long sales cycle. Since people usually buy these things with an eye for the long-term, they don’t just go and buy the first thing they see or like. Be ready to put up with some period of decision-making.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t and shouldn’t do anything to nudge them closer to a speedier conversion. By providing opportunities for micro-conversions, you can get people to make a series of small commitments to you, all of which will lay the groundwork for the bigger conversion later.
For instance, you can encourage customers to take the next step in their shopping journey by engaging them with tools that make it easy to get a quote, virtually “try on” a piece of jewelry, or decide between similar cosmetic surgery procedures.
Using a decision wizard, joining a discussion forum and even requesting pricing are all little things but they demand a commitment from customers. And that not only helps to build trust, but also makes it easier for the prospect to picture him or herself making the final purchase decision.
It is crucial, however, that you let potential customers feel that they’re in control of the entire process. No one likes to be rushed into making a decision, and this is especially true when it comes to big-ticket purchases. Give your buyers the opportunity to make a series of small commitments that are comfortable to them, and they will eventually talk themselves into buying.
Help Them Feel A Sense Of Ownership
Buyers of big ticket items often expect higher levels of attention and service in exchange for their premium spending. This is why the brick and mortar stores of high-end fashion brands are so focused on experience. These companies know that in order to get folks in the mood to buy, you must make them feel special and valued.
Fortunately, delighting potential online customers may be as simple as putting some sort of recommender on your website that pairs the customer with a certain product or features based on his or her personality. Some financial websites, for instance, have quizzes that help visitors find the perfect line of credit for them based on their spending habits and priorities (do they love shopping? Spending for vacations? Buying things for the family?).
Aside from the perception of a more personalized experience, these elements develop increased emotional engagement with visitors by allowing them to feel a sense of connection with products.
A “what’s your car personality?” quiz on a car seller’s website, for instance, lets prospective customers instantly feel an affinity with the car that, according to the quiz results, fits them. But more than that, it forces the prospect to start picturing him or herself owning the car. This visualization has a powerful effect, creating a more urgent desire for the purchase than words alone could have done.
You can also help build potential customers’ sense of affinity and ownership by allowing them to customize items.
Here, you’re taking advantage of what’s called the IKEA effect, or the tendency for people to put a high value on things that they’ve helped create. In the case of a car purchase, giving visitors the tools to “build their car” even if it just means choosing the color, the transmission system, or their preferred add-ons to an existing product line up, may be just what’s needed to tip them into buying that car from you instead of somewhere else.
Affirm Your Customers’ Decision
High-involvement purchases are double-edged swords. On the one hand, there’s tremendous opportunity to connect with your customers due to the high level of emotional investment involved in these types of transactions.
On the other hand, there’s also an increased risk of buyer’s remorse after the purchase. It doesn’t matter if they got the best deal on the planet. Your customers will be wondering if they made the right decision – if they should have chosen a different color, bought from a different seller, or waited until next season’s model got released.
The good news is that people also have a choice-supportive bias. That is, we usually form rationalizations that positively support our decisions, even as we’re wondering if our choice was the right one. The task for sellers at this point is to affirm the soundness of the customer’s choice by optimizing the post-purchase experience.
Invite customers to join an exclusive members-only Facebook group or forum, create sales offerings geared specifically toward enhancing their purchase, and make them feel “connected” with your company or brand for the long-term.
Car dealers have refined this technique: sending friendly reminders for warranty service checks, offering trade-in incentives to upgrade to the latest model, and routinely conducting customer satisfaction surveys.
Be Patient & Understanding
The stakes are high for both sellers and potential customers when it comes to big ticket purchases. Knowing the specific behaviors of your potential customers and optimizing your presence across all relevant information channels can mean the difference between keeping buyers engaged to losing them early on in the consideration process.
Most importantly, understand that financial decisions are emotional decisions, and you’ll be on your way to nurturing more buyers through your high-ticket purchase funnel.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)