Photo: Getty Images. Illustration: Chloe Krammel

E-commerce has completely changed the way consumers make decisions. While comparison shopping used to be a skill exclusive to savvy shoppers, it’s now practically second nature. According to a 2016 Pew survey, 86 percent of Americans want to compare prices from different sellers when purchasing something for the first time. 

What’s interesting is that having nearly unlimited options doesn’t put shoppers’ minds at ease. In fact, online shoppers can suffer from purchase anxiety more than offline shoppers. The world’s top brands understand that simplifying the decision-making process makes a purchase more likely. Ultimately, this means making it easy for consumers to weigh their options by minimizing the number of sources they must consult.

Going out of your way to educate customers boosts conversions, builds trust, and lowers the cost of acquisition. Here are a few smart ways to simplify the path to purchase online by providing the information customers need:

1. Do an In-Depth Analysis of Your Competitors

Anytime a customer goes to shop, they’re going to make some side-by-side comparisons before purchasing. The amount of scrutiny a product undergoes is directly related to a consumer’s knowledge of the product beforehand, the accessibility of other options, and the stakes involved. Online, the options are endless and highly accessible. But while a pack of light bulbs on Amazon might get a 30-second price comparison, the search for a baby’s car seat might take days or weeks. 

Instead of forcing your customers to hunt for information, serve it up on a silver platter. Do a side-by-side comparison with other top products, or write an in-depth analysis of all your competitors. 

Take home warranties, for example. This is a case where there are plenty of options, consumers don’t typically have a lot of knowledge beforehand, and the stakes are high. When a couple is trying to select the best home warranty for their budget, seeing a side-by-side comparison of the different home warranty choices will help them feel that they’ve made an informed decision. This is where branded media or content-sharing partnerships can come in handy. You can deliver a piece of educational content that simplifies decision-making.

2. Provide Abundant Information on Product Pages

There are a few things that early e-commerce naysayers predicted consumers would never buy online: cars, mattresses, and high-end jewelry. Yet now there are online companies succeeding in all of those categories.

Take Carvana, for instance, the company that will deliver a car to your door. Carvana has been betting on the fact that people hate the dealership experience so much that they might be willing to order a car online. But how do you get people to take the plunge without a test drive or that new-car smell? 

Carvana achieves this with an overly thorough sales page for each car. The website offers 360-degree virtual tours of each vehicle, the results of a 150-point inspection, and the Carfax report. Shoppers can also see photos of any vehicle imperfections and the breakdown of taxes and title fees. Arming consumers with all the information gives them the confidence to make a purchase.

3. Solicit Helpful Customer Reviews

Apart from providing all relevant product information, reviews are the best way to help customers make an informed decision. Ninety-one percent of consumers ages 18 to 35 trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. 

It’s always a good idea to ask for reviews, but you can also do a few things to encourage customers to leave more helpful reviews. Uploading photos and videos, for instance, can help customers decide whether an item is for them. A customer photo can show how a garment really hangs or how a ceiling fan looks in someone’s home.

Many online clothing retailers have become extremely savvy about the type of information they solicit from customers. Banana Republic asks reviewers to rate how true an item is to size, the item’s fit, and whether the length runs short or long.

With so many consumers now shopping online, people have nearly infinite buying options. It’s in your best interest to help your customer make informed buying decisions because they’re going to comparison-shop anyway. By educating the consumer up front, you can streamline the decision-making process and smooth the path to purchase.