Holiday Specials: How to Create a Superior Online Shopping ExperienceMichael Curran
For retailers, online sales have become a major portion of holiday revenue. And not surprisingly, industry experts predict that proportion will grow as more people shop online because of the pandemic. In a recent Accenture survey of 1,500 American consumers, three-quarters said they plan to “do at least some of their holiday shopping online this year.” That’s a jump of 10 points from 2019. A significant number, 43%, plan to do all their holiday shopping online.
This isn’t only about being uncomfortable with the physical proximity to other customers. People are concerned about the safety of front-line workers, as well. Accenture said that 61% of consumers plan to limit in-person shopping in order to reduce the risk to retail employees. They’ll also start shopping earlier out of fear that products won’t be available or shipped in time to reach the space under the tree.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, many businesses have ramped up their e-commerce capabilities. But as the holiday season approaches, there’ll be even greater pressure to provide excellent customer experience. The competition in retail is fierce, and businesses that want to succeed, and not just survive, need to make sure consumers get what they want.
The Elements Of A Positive Online Shopping Experience
A lot goes into providing a superior online retail experience, from the technical back end to the front-line contact center. Use this list to rate how your organization is performing and determine what you can do to improve.
Appealing And Mobile-Friendly Website
In the brick-and-mortar world, windows entice shoppers into the store. Online, your home page is the “window”. Ask yourself: Is it visually exciting? Does it encourage shoppers to explore the site? Is it easy to navigate, and does it load quickly? If you haven’t already, invest in a strong e-commerce platform
The site must also be mobile-friendly. Many retailers go a step further and offer apps to make shopping via mobile devices even simpler. Whatever you do, the experience must be smoothly integrated across all digital channels so that when switching devices, customers find their information is in place and they don’t need to start over.
Responsive Communications 24/7
Today’s consumer won’t tolerate slow service. Shoppers want answers quickly—in minutes, not hours and certainly not days. They’ve come to expect 24/7 service, where someone, somewhere in the world, is available to resolve any issues they encounter. And while they expect and use self-service options, consumers’ patience runs thin if they can’t find the answers they need quickly. When that happens, they expect a live person to step in and help.
All this is a pretty tall order, which not every company can fill. Online retailers must pay attention to every consumer touch point and develop ways to communicate on every channel. Tools like chatbots, live chat, email and, of course, phones can help.
For example, customer service reps can help several customers at once by using online chat to answer queries about shipping, product information and technical issues. Chatbots, driven by artificial intelligence, can provide answers to common questions without the need for human intervention. A shared inbox enables customer service teams to field issues more quickly. Monitoring social media also helps head off consumer complaints.
Communications must encompass everything that happens after checkout. Automated emails keep customers updated on order status and package tracking. Contacting the customer after delivery is also impactful.
Consumers expect service reps to know everything about their communications with the company, as well as key personal information and history. Successful online retailers use CRM tools to capture all customer data, across all channels, to create a seamless experience. By using the cloud and integrating with other internal systems—like supply chain and logistics platforms—service professionals can have all the information needed to meet customer demand at their fingertips.
Easy, Safe Online Check Out
According to Nielsen’s recent COVID-19 Shopper survey, 60% of households expect their routines to remain altered for at least the next four months. The desire to limit exposure to the virus will continue to shape their shopping behavior. Thus, enhancing the online shopping experience becomes even more vital, particularly as a tool for attracting and retaining customers. That can mean offering a variety of elements, from the ability to save items in the cart to offering a range of payment and shipping choices. Shops that aren’t properly set up for online transactions tend to lose nervous customers.
Multiple Delivery Options
Along with increasing their demands on customer support, consumers have come to expect flexibility when it comes to shipping and delivery. Due to the pandemic, 22% more Americans use delivery services today, according to McKinsey. That’s why the cafe chain Panera moved quickly to create a grocery-delivery service after lockdown, something that wasn’t previously part of its core business. Today, customers can order entrees from Panera’s regular menu, then add groceries to their cart as well.
An essential part of today’s online shopping experience is the ability to read credible product reviews. That means not just publishing your customers’ thoughts about their purchases, but responding to any concerns they might have in the review section. Businesses that demonstrate that they’re listening to, and doing something about, complaints develop greater respect from both current and potential customers. Encourage shoppers to leave both visual and text reviews endorsing your products on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
The pandemic has moved more employees into a virtual work environment, which can actually improve customer service. For instance, staff in different time zones can process orders and even ship locally when they have product in stock. Call centers don’t need a physical location when reps can connect to the network from home. With the right telecommunications tools, businesses can be more responsive and nimble.
The pandemic has simply hastened the change from brick-and-mortar to online retail. That’s put great pressure on businesses, but also presented great opportunities. Retailers can expand their consumer base from local to national or even international. Just-in-time inventory can reduce costs. And it’s an opportunity to deepen relationships with your customers. All with the right tools to create a superior online shopping experience.