Imagine walking into a large department store knowing that you want to buy a purple short-sleeved A-line dress for a wedding, priced between $100 and $200. Now imagine that there are no associates, no signage pointing you to formal wear, no store breakdown by clothing type, designer or department. You are left to wander the wilderness of the store on your own, and are likely to leave frustrated – and empty-handed.

That’s what it’s like for online shoppers who aren’t provided with guidance by the retailer, except it’s worse online because shoppers can’t physically find their way. They can’t see items and have no way of knowing what is available.

That’s why guided selling, which helps buyers find the best product, is so important.

Retailers have an opportunity to emulate an in-store experience by developing sophisticated features that blend content and personalization. For example, asking a person shopping for sneakers how often they run, what surface they run on, or whether they have high or low arches, is a more satisfying experience for the shopper and is more likely to result in the sale of a product that does not get returned.

Some categories lend themselves to this type of guided selling, like cosmetics. Case in point: NYX Cosmetics, which has built a library of user-generated pictures culled from its 5-million strong Instagram account. The images give shoppers shopping for, say, a pink lipstick a good idea of what the item would look like based on others with similar features.

Examples of other product categories that would benefit from guided selling are technical, feature-rich items or gifts, where a shopper inputs age, gender, hobbies and other attributes to find the perfect gift.

Of course, there are many dos and don’t for retailers. This paper Best Practices for Creating Guided Selling Experiences, explains:

  • How guided selling can increase revenue and average order value
  • Effective uses of guided selling
  • Four key steps to success
  • Design considerations
  • How to marry form and function
  • Tips to get the best return from guided selling tools

On-site product recommendations, too, can help guide a sale. But retailers should take care to offer individualized recommendations. Why? Consumers expect a personalized shopping experience where just a few clicks leads to exactly the right products for their individual needs, not the needs of other shoppers who bought the same product. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

The Demandware Q1 Shopping Index shows that shoppers are spending less and less time on retailers’ sites, particularly on mobile. They will quickly abandon a site with a poor user experience or if they can’t find what they want. It’s up to you, retailer, to implement guided selling best practices to ensure they do find what they want.