How to dominate online shopping

A great eCommerce website, fast delivery promise and 24/7 customer service are no longer differentiators. They’re the price of entry. Here’s how to dominate online shopping.

Online transactions in Australia have now surpassed $20 billion per annum. We’re also one of the world’s leading smartphone adopters, with a staggering 88% market penetration. Recent growth in smartphone adoption is being driven by older generations and, unsurprisingly, mobile purchases have increased by 25% since 2016. “People don’t buy on phones” is a myth. An excellent user experience for customers, no matter where they are, is paramount.

Responsive websites that work perfectly across computers, tablets and smartphones are a given. If customers want to buy from apps – as many do for repeat purchases – an awesome app experience on iPhone and Android also goes without saying. Here are some principles for retailers to dominate online shopping.


US-based home improvement retailer Home Depot’s sales have increased at over 6 percent annually for the past 5 years. Online sales account for $6.5 billion in revenue for the past year, making it the fourth biggest eCommerce player in the US. Over 40 percent of Home Depot’s online orders are picked up from stores. Home Depot’s growth is the result of focusing on products that are ‘eCommerce unfriendly’. Think sophisticated power tools and home renovation supplies.

Customers need advice on these products from experienced associates in store, and the in-store experience and staffing strategy has been geared around this. Retailers are in the business of service, not products, and finding an expert service niche creates value for the customer and helps to achieve a premium retailer positioning. What expert service can a retailer provide that others can’t? The answer is often found in the call centre and on the shop floor, in both the questions customers call and email to ask and the skill-sets of staff. Retailers, be eCommerce unfriendly and lead with service to win.


Amazon now accounts for 44 per cent of all online sales in the US. If that doesn’t frighten Australian retailers, it should. Now that Amazon has landed, selling commodities online in Australia is over. If Amazon sells it, it’s unlikely that you can sell it faster or cheaper or better. So don’t. Amazon is the world’s most valuable company, and there’ll only be one winner if you take the retailing giant head-on. Instead, go where Amazon can’t.

Get clear about what you’re really selling. Like Home Depot, most companies, even those that sell products, are really in the service business. How can you out-service Amazon? Home Depot achieves this in-store, though you can also achieve it online. has gone where Amazon can’t. Who would’ve thought buying nuts online could be so awesome? Take a look and notice the nut-specific touches throughout. Special advice for dietary needs and fussy eaters, an incredibly thoughtful and intricate product range, useful recipes, amazing nutrition breakdowns, storage tips, and a heads up on expiry dates for short shelf life products during checkout. Amazon can’t go this niche with this much care – it’s not scalable enough. By understanding Amazon’s business model and learning what your customer wants better than anyone else, you can go where Amazon can’t and win.


To help you navigate where you can go and what you’re really selling, understand why customers choose to hire you. If you’re selling high-value items purchased occasionally, like cars or beds, you’re a concierge and educator. If you’re selling clothing, you’re a stylist ensuring a look and fit. If you’re selling consumables and household goods, like groceries or pizza, you’re an order-taker and rapid deliverer. If you’re selling travel and transport, you’re a people-moving utility. Virgin America understands its role. The airline increased its online conversion rate by 14 per cent by streamlining bookings to less than 60 seconds. In terms of online, the airline is a utility. Let customers book with speed, and stay out of their way.


The Village of Useful’s work on a national travel website increased revenue by 20% with the right upsells. The right upsell isn’t selling, it’s helping. Approaching upsells and cross-sells from the customer’s point of view, not the retailer’s, helps to educate customers by showing them alternate or complementary products that genuinely improve their situation. The art of the upsell isn’t knowing when to do it and when to resist it, but how to personalise the right offering to the right people at the right time. Launching online A/B tests is a helpful way to work out the right balance, whereby different customers see different upsell offers and sales data is used to inform the approach.


Jeff Bezos invested 100 times more in customer experience than advertising during the first year of Amazon, and took the company public three years later. $5,000 in shares at the time of Amazon’s IPO is worth over $2.4 million today. With online, an amazing customer experience that drives repeat sales and word of mouth beats advertising. BFM Andy Howard is Director of The Village of Useful.

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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