E-commerce first reared its head 20 years ago and it didn’t take long before its arrival was hailed as the harbinger of doom for the traditional shop. This year, online advertising in the UK across both the web and mobile is expected to break through the £7 billion mark, helping drive a 15 percent growth in e-commerce sales in 2014.

But, despite people virtually lining up for their online stores, conversion rates remain surprisingly low for e-commerce on desktops (3%) and are even less on smartphones (1%) with tablet users converting somewhere in the middle. By comparison, retailers say that in-store conversion rates range between 20% and 40%. Why is there such a disparity in these figures and why are e-commerce sites missing out on so much potential custom?

Unlike a traditional retail store, bank, travel agency or insurance broker, online stores are unstaffed, making the initial experience of ‘walking in’ flat. By not offering help, online retailers see flocks of customers leaving if they can’t figure out what to do/how to proceed. To make e-commerce the success it once promised to be, it is imperative that companies not only focus on getting customers to the door, but also through the door.

Research shows that 83% of consumers require some degree of support when making purchases online. To address this situation, companies need to provide VIP engagement throughout customers’ entire journey – from the time the customer begins his or her experience through the payment process and service experience. Furthermore, businesses need to embrace the age of mobile – customers are no longer tethered to their desktops; a mobile experience across tablets and phones must also be catered to.

There are several steps that can be taken to ensure e-commerce begins to fulfil its potential. For example, enterprises should replicate in-person customer service with online customer engagement. Excellent customer service is vital both in-store or online to ensure customers can get the assistance they need with sales, questions and payments.

Implementation of an integrated platform that engages customers on multiple channels is an absolute must. Savvy retailers are tuned in to help consumers at the right time of the digital journey with the right method of engagement. A host of technologies – from web self-service and email to chat, video chat and social media – are each suited to addressing different customer queries at different times. Understanding this, and ensuring that the right one is used at the right time is of the utmost importance.

Businesses should also review, honestly, how and where they are offering assistance and where they are missing the boat. Consumers will often avoid text-heavy “help” documents. Instead, they need to offer contextual and interactive knowledge. The payment process can be tedious and frustrating, especially if a customer is greeted with an error message after having dedicated time to providing their information.

Usually these error messages are overly vague and leave consumers unwilling to enter their information again. But, offer help using a technology like proactive chat and the whole payment process can be eased and the transaction completed.

Finally, businesses should strive to create meaningful mobile experiences. To capitalise on the opportunity presented by the ever-growing reliance on mobile technologies, companies need to begin adopting responsive designs to engage customers on their mobile device of choice. In addition, the upcoming generation of shoppers has grown up using their phones for everything. The e-commerce experience needs to be adapted with this in mind.

By embracing these evolving technologies, e-commerce can finally realise the vast potential it is yet to meet. Implementing the above tips and innovations will enable businesses to provide a better experience and inspire a greater number of customers to stop pressing their noses against the online door, and finally take a step inside.