In the past, “Digital Transformation” ruled the day for ecommerce businesses—it was the be all and end all for our industry and many others. But the digital transformation mindset no longer achieves what organizations need it to. In its place, ecommerce enterprises must adopt an attitude of experimentation and optimization.
The fact of the matter is that your customers not only expect, but demand that you grow with them and their needs. Where a digital transformation strategy shifts the ground beneath their feet—implementing changes as you see fit—experimentation and optimization moves to the rhythm of the customer’s voice.
As such, by pivoting away from the digital transformation mindset to one of experimentation and optimization, your enterprise will be better equipped to serve, through unique and personalized experiences, the ever-growing expectations of your customers. You can reach them where they are, how they want, and—most importantly—faster than your competitors.
Let us explain.
Digital Transformation vs. Experimentation and Optimization: What’s the Difference?
To emphasize the difference between these two strategies, we first need to understand our terms.
Digital transformation is the process of incorporating digital tech in brand, products, and business strategy. It’s an ongoing procedure because tech is always growing—but many businesses have already done the brunt of this, especially in the ecommerce industry. Once you’ve gotten your business online, the digital transformation mindset can take a backseat. You don’t need to abandon it, but you shouldn’t make it your leading priority.
Why? Because your work doesn’t stop once you’ve gone digital, and a digital-transformation-first mindset can lead to businesses focusing more on their stack than they do on the customer, which is a death knell for an ecommerce organization. Every ecommerce business is—by definition—online, but the key differentiators between them are not what technology they have at their fingertips, but the experience they’re able to provide to their customers.
That’s what the Experimentation and Optimization attitude entails—a customer-first focus on the ways in which the technology you already have makes your shopping experience better. Do you know your customer? Are you leveraging the data you have at your disposal to make them feel heard and valued? For decades, brick and mortar stores have been able to cultivate loyalty and trust among their clientele. At a certain point—that point being right now—you need to ensure your focus on your tech doesn’t overshadow your focus on your customers.
Experimentation: The Route to Optimization
If we define Optimization as the best possible experience for the customer, then Experimentation is the best road there. Because your customers’ expectations are a constantly evolving and moving target, you need a testing strategy that’s also constantly on the move. This means building on an existing foundation, testing on everything from small elements to digital experiences to full pages, rather than rebuilding your site from the ground up with vague assumptions of what will work better—an approach which only serves to confuse customers, and drive them away.
As with any experiment, you need to identify your metrics and your variables when it comes to finding that ideal customer experience. Where are your customers clicking? What banners are catching their attention? What upsell experiences increase average order value (AOV)? What page layout reduces abandoned carts? What catches their eyes and drives them from a Product Listing Page (PLP) to a purchase?
These are just some of the many kinds of questions that build a customer-centric mindfulness. Asking them routinely will inspire experimentation and ultimately empower you to optimize your site for the best possible shopping experience for your customers and the best possible KPIs for your business.
Experimentation and Optimization Promote Growth
As an ecommerce enterprise—one of many in a highly competitive industry—you need to focus on growth. That means growth of your customer base, growth of your brand recognition, and growth of your infrastructure to handle an influx in your clientele.
An experimentation and optimization mindset will ensure all three of these goals.
Growth in your customer base: The easier your site and products are to navigate, the more customers will choose you over your competitors. When you know where and why your site’s browsers buy or bounce, you’ll be better able to build an experience that is smooth, easy, and comfortable.
Growth in your brand: When your site caters to your customers, you’ll turn prospects into buyers—but more importantly—buyers into evangelists. Your happy customers will promote you to their friends, and you’ll be able to rapidly build your base. Plus, with every new browser comes more experimentation analytics so you can accelerate your tests with traffic.
Growth in your infrastructure: With experimentation, you not only get a clearer sense of what works or doesn’t work on the frontend, but also the back end. As a result, you’re in a better position to review, refine, or make changes to your tech stack that support both your team’s internal efforts and your customers’ journey.
Where to Start: Getting your Team on Board
The fundamental elements of an Experimentation and Optimizationmindset within an organization are curiosity and humility.
You need to be willing to ask questions, and you need to be willing to fail.
With every test, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t; and with every thing that doesn’t work, you need to be willing to try again. It doesn’t mean your site is broken; it doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job. It simply means that there’s something different to chase on the ever-moving horizon of your customers’ expectations.
It’s the businesses that are willing to keep the pursuit and stay on their toes that succeed in genuinely optimizing their customer experience.
But this also requires a management culture that understands not every test that marketers and sales teams run will result in 100% success. Employees in an organization work best when validated—even in cases of imperfection. In ecommerce organizations, the target is constantly moving and your experimentation techniques won’t always hit it. As such, in order to promote a constant and curious mindset, you need to ensure that the failure of a test doesn't mean your teams feel like they’ve failed. Many assumptions that enterprises make are wrong, because we’re constantly learning about our customers. Being wrong is okay—there’s a difference between a mistake and a learning opportunity, especially in experimentation. It’s “win or learn” not “win or lose”.
At the end of the day, it’s essential to cultivate an environment of openness and communication around experimentation—not every idea will work, but when there’s a sense of equity in ideation, you’re more likely to get a diversity and wealth of ideas, and an enhanced ability to test as a result. In fact, make it a part of your team meetings: ask your team to each bring one experiment idea to your routine meetings. Why is this worth testing? How might they execute the experiment? Then encourage your team to discuss, plan, and carry out these tests. Cultivate curiosity by standardizing the pitching of experimentation ideas.
Plan for the Future, Learn from the Past – And As You Go
By definition, Experimentation and Optimization are inexact sciences. They require a constant and dynamic push—day-to-day, minute-by-minute attention. New technologies such as AI have only enhanced organizations’ ability to keep their finger on their customers’ pulses and create better strategies for creating the best possible site experience.
While digital transformation may have been the way of the past—optimization can keep you at pace with each and every buyer and competing with any ecommerce business. Experimentation is the only way to understand not only what you know, but your Known Unknowns, and even Unknown Unknowns—teaching you about yourself and your clientele, beat by beat.
Optimizing your customer journey and experience should be your business’s destination. Experimentation is the route. Your team’s experimentation mindset is the vehicle. Give them the courage and the keys and get your business moving.