High street stores are getting their mojo back, so what can ecommerce do to engage the consumer?

Here are just 10 features that help to keep customers engaged on ecommerce websites. If you've seen any innovative new features from ecommerce companies, please let us know below.

For all things engagement and optimisation, why not attend the Festival of Marketing, in London, November 12-13th.

1. Clustering

Adding a dose of reality to shopping online is often desirable. What I'm talking about is adding some serendipity and the experience that comes from being in a shop.

Clustering of products that wouldn't necessarily sit together in navigation or in stores is a way of adding a human touch to merchandising. And of course it's about cross-selling, encouraging people to see outfits rather than pieces (when used in apparel).

M&S is probably the most high profile proponent of this approach, as its new website focuses more on fashion than utility.

shop this outfit 

2. 'Content'

Content and commerce often collide, in fact there's an Econsultancy report on where the two meet (Where Content and Commerce Collide). In this instance I'm talking about additional content, as opposed to product descriptions, video etc. The best term might be lifestyle content, or perhaps just content marketing.

There are many examples to hand - from big grocers using recipes on site in order to sell the requisite ingredients, to apparel merchants hosting lookbooks from designers. Schuh goes from product video into product demo, where a merchandiser talks to the consumer about the shoe and how to wear it.

The Watch Gallery has a magazine section on its site where it ties together reviews, videos, editorial and more. This is an important section of the site for a retailer that doesn't have a presence on the high street.

And, slightly more well known, TopShop does a similar online mag titled 'Hitlist' that sits under the 'Inspire me' call-to-action in the header. I've included a shot below.


3. Copy

Sell the benefits, not the features of products. Use category page copy for SEO benefit. Inject some fun into proceedings where appropriate, but write for your audience (who are people, remember).

Most importantly, as Peter Meinertzhagen points out, provide detailed and unique copy. The example below from Bench is one of how not to write product copy.

When it comes to knowing your audience, see the Natural History Museum shop for a good example of product copy.

How not to write product copy

bad product copy

4. The value proposition

If you're Tesco in the UK (only Tesco is), perhaps a value proposition on your website isn't that important. But for most other ecommerce merchants, and indeed for any company with a website, a value proposition is vital.

Design will give people an impression of your site and your products (after all, users are reluctant to read unless they have to) but you should still make sure the website states what you stand for.

Here's a clear-as-day example from Evernote.

value proposition

5. Product video

Some retailers have found video gives a boost to conversion - certainly the presence of video would hint at a richer, more persuasive product page.

David Moth has previously rounded up retailers who are creative with product video

ASOS gained the most praise for its array of quirky models, I even went to the trouble of screencasting the dancer below.

As Darin Archer advocates, one can also go further with product video, exploring post-purchase or targeting a particular segment of your audience.

6. Customer reviews (with a face)

Customer reviews are incredibly powerful, which is why they are used in many different marketing channels.

On an ecommerce website they can take myriad forms - as a product filter (X number of stars), on the store-finder page (to show the kind of service to expect on arrival), against product listings and on product pages etc. They can be more powerful when combined with the face of the reviewer, something that can be taken from Gravatar (see David Shaw's post on the sbject).

The majority of shoppers are shown to consult these reviews before purchase, and these reviews don't just encourage purchase (their primary purpose) they also have SEO benefits, too - fresh content and non-duplication.

customer review

7. New categories and filters

While you don't want to disorient your audience by continually fiddling with filters and navigation, there's a lot that can be done to enliven the browsing experience.

Even simply, looking at Matalan's homepage, categories for 'Holiday Shop' and 'Sale' immediately jump out. Managing these spaces for different holidays and adding filters that allow people to browse by reviews, colours, who they are shopping for etc. - these can all be good tactics.


8. Site search

Look at the example from ToysRUs below. autocomplete is used, showing me the SKUs for each term and bolding the differences between them. This is ideal and unambiguous for the shopper.

Of course, accuracy of results is the most important thing. If a result is not surfaced, the SKU may go unsold, and if the results don't inspire faith in the user, the feature will quickly be ignored.

Setting up a custom report in analytics to show site search terms is a key part of any ecommerce merchandisers strategy - knowing what isn't being surfaced or what needs to be stocked is important.

For more on this subject, read Graham Charlton's post on 13 best practice tips for site search for ecommerce.

9. Social media

This is quite a broad area. It could include crowdsourced imagery (tools such as Olapic allow for this), social sign-in for comments, simple embedded tweets, share imperatives or even incentives against content, trending items and more.

The example from ASOS below is particularly effective. The 'as seen on me' feature will encourage users to browse and even participate, doing ASOS's content creation and giving up data in the process.

asos as seen on me

10. Live chat (including video)

Although the call to action for live chat isn't a big part of an ecommerce site, it stands out nonetheless and is a valuable feature because of its range of uses. In fact, some surveys show live chat as the customer service channel consumers are most satisfied with.

A customer may not be satisfied with a list of FAQs, whereas live chat enables questions about products, ranges, fulfillment, stores, payment etc.

Here's a screen grab of Vee24's solution on the LandRover site. For such a considered purchase, live chat makes a whole lot of sense - it doesn't take many sales to recoup the outlay.

With a pre-recorded introductory video and the option to chat via text or via live video, there's plenty here to reassure the customer, whether they want to engage face-to-face, or simply fire off a question.

(Click to enlarge)

land rover live chat

There are plenty of features I have mssed. Let me know if you think I've neglected any of the strikingly obvious.

Ben Davis

Published 11 August, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

1244 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (6)

Save or Cancel


Nice tips, but some of them are not easy and cheap to implement, so this tips are nor for small companies. Off course if you do it well you will get the money back and profits .

about 4 years ago


The Chat Shop

Live chat is a great way of increasing customer engagement but using live chat proactively increases engagement even further. We're a live chat strategy and managed service provider and we use behavioural analysis to target customers clearly in need of assistance or that are about to abandon; then invite them to chat with one of our agents. We then use the live chat to answer their questions and solve any problems they may have.

We use proactive live chat in order to convert and assist more customers; which we believe is the main reason for customer engagement in the first place.

about 4 years ago



Live chat is a great way to assist your customers personally, as you would in a physical store. Voice interactions can be more reassuring, especially when making a purchase or sharing sensitive information. We're a predictive targeting & live chat provider and we offer click to chat, audio and video chat to assist high potential clients, to interact with and advise unsure or frustrated customers and save sales.

Because you can't discuss with every visitor on your website, we integrate a predictive targeting tool to identify when your customers are close to buy or need assistance. Receive alerts when potential customers are online and be proactive. As in a store, speak with the right customers, at the right time, with the right message.

Our algorithm is based on the latest technology on the market. We collect your visitors' browsing history and based on their behavior, we highlights your strongest potentials.

about 4 years ago


John Vance, Senior Manager at West Monroe Partners

Good foundational tips that apply equally to small businesses and huge multi-nationals. Each of these aspects can be achieved even on a budget using services and tools readily available to start ups and mom and pops.

about 4 years ago


Pauline Ashenden

Building on your point about live chat, providing fast, consistent answers to customer questions through web self-service systems is also critical to engagement. By letting customers get answers on the site (rather than needing to email or call) it avoids breaking the customer journey and improves the experience. More on the benefits in this Eptica blog post http://eptica.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/top-benefits-of-natural-language-powered-self-service/

almost 4 years ago


Kriti Sarda, Content Marketer at Unbxd

Very useful post! To add to this list, compelling brand stories also make a solid customer engagement tactic. For instance, Zappos have a great story of how they delivered the pizza to a woman, who later became their customer for life.

Such interesting stories attract peoples' attention and get them interested in a brand.

You can take a look at more interesting examples of retaining customers' attention on ecommerce sites here - http://buff.ly/1xzAW1E

almost 4 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.