Customers value advice when they are buying things, particularly high-ticket items or products with a wide range of features.

Bricks-and-mortar stores are currently able to offer a more comprehensive and specific consultation service than online shops – but online retailers can already reproduce many of the features offered by a real human customer consultant by integrating a software-based guided selling function.

By using guided selling, an eCommerce site can discover what a customer’s needs and concerns are, tailor the results they see in product searches and help them overcome buyer remorse.

If you are going to design and develop an effective guided selling function, here are five tips for successfully marrying up as many customers as possible with the relevant products.

1. Put your consultant tool in the right place in your shop

Where you put your consultant tool depends on what you sell. If it is products that require in-depth information, like insurance, it’s worth integrating your digital consultant into the main navigation.

If, however, your stock includes a mix of complex products and simpler ones, you should set the function up so it appears when certain search queries are run or certain pages are visited. That way, it is available for customers who need it when they need it.

Analyse search terms typed into your site-specific search tool to identify recurrent generic terms and use these to build up a list of search terms that should trigger the appearance of your guided selling function.

2. Only ask the necessary questions

 Your consultant function should be as streamlined as possible. Keep your questions to a minimum – for most product types, three to five questions are ideal. For the most complex products, you may need to ask more, but limit it to seven tops. The more easily and quickly questions can be answered, the more customers are converted.

Ask about the most important product features first – e.g. if a customer wants to ride his new bicycle over rough mountain terrain or in the city. More specific questions should follow only once the most important criteria have been identified.

3. Justify your questions and product recommendations

Be careful how you phrase your questions and be prepared to explain why you are recommending the products that appear on your list. For example, asking “How far away from the television do you normally sit?” is confusing if you do not explain that the answer will suggest the appropriate screen size.

You can write your questions in such a way that they educate the consumer, rather than just asking for basic facts. Similarly, if you integrate informative content into the answers you give, customers will better understand why you are recommending them and accept them more easily.

By doing that, you strengthen the trust that customer has in your online shop and you validate their purchase decision.

4. Hide the consulting tool as soon as the customer applies filters independently

Experienced online shoppers who already know exactly what they want may get annoyed if you keep trying to ‘help’ them when they don’t want help. Either let them turn it off or set it up to fade into the background as soon as the user visits the next page of the product list or chooses to filters results independently.

5. Use your consultant for social media marketing

If you decide to add a guided selling function to your eCommerce site then make sure you announce that in your social media channels and via your email newsletters. Many online shoppers are inquisitive and playful and like to try out new interactive web functions. Some of them may not just buy more using the digital consultant but also promote it to their own network through likes, shares, retweets, etc. Explain clearly to your fans and followers what your new function can do and how it has been introduced to add value for them.

Guided selling functionality is becoming more and more important for online shops – but there will always be some expert shoppers (or who simply lack the patience to answer a series of questions) who don’t want to use it so you should never rely on guided selling alone. Other elements, such as search, navigation and filters, will always remain decisive factors in driving your sales growth.