Online shopping is the only phenomenon that has bucked the trend of recession and weak economic outlook in many countries. This phenomenon might have started in late 90’s, after a few and brief anxious moments, its been on a roll; because nearly a trillion dollars were spent by online shoppers just last year; Surprisingly that’s just about 30% of the potential – wonder what’s more to come. E-commerce has no doubt evolved tremendously over the last decade or so; it has transcended through most of the product, services and commodities categories, so much so that today there are more choices available to user than a traditional super market or hyper market.
While it is clear that the basic fundamentals of product variety and brand experience stay at the heart of buying and selling online, But its the evolution of the new era of customer experience that has increased the online shoppers funnel from just $ 50 Mn to $1Tn Dollars in the last 10 years. Online shoppers have no doubt adapted themselves over the years, and while a lot of things might have changed in the e-commerce context, but a lot of things that remain unsaid in every customer experience survey and research. Being an online shopper myself, I would like to put the context of customer experience in three stages viz:
Core Experience, Augmented experience and the intangibles that form the basis of every online shopping experience.
Core Experience: The benefits and the reasons that are the building blocks of online shopping – even today viz.
- Lower prices: Because the online stores don’t have the higher overheads of retail infrastructure, show room real estate or supporting staff costs unlike real retail stores and the benefit is easily passed on to the customer – at least that’s what the online shopper perceives.
- Convenience: Door step delivery is convenient and less taxing – especially in case of non perishables and standard products and commodities.
- Time & Effort: Online shopping is far less stressful than walking through crowded places, product shelves and sections, or waiting in line for billing; While online shoppers can finish their shopping in a far shorter period with just a few clicks.
- Shopping Cost: Every time one goes out for shopping, there is an invisible cost; be it driving cost, parking cost or other unnecessary costs, which is usually higher than online shopping cost.
Augmented experience: The reasons and benefits that enhances the core shopping experience, while empowering the online shoppers and providing more reason to shop online. This is an experience that has evolved very well in the past few years viz:
- Price comparison: The Consumer today has more convenience to compare prices before making a decision; Sites like pricegrabber.com provide this unique benefit which provides more choice and power in the hands of consumer.
- Reviews: The experience of other users now plays an important role in selection of brands and in decision-making, because buyers can learn from others experience and avoid the pitfalls.
- Mobile: The convenience of mobile, has enabled a wider reach, localization of content and ability to shop while on the move.
- Promotions & Coupons: An Un deniable advantage for a price conscious customer. It brings the power of affordability right back into the hands of the customer, who has already decided to buy. The reason why Bargain sales of thanksgiving, Cyber Monday, black Friday and Halloween are so popular and extended every time is not because of the brands on Sale but its consumers “affordability” on sale.
Intangibles experience: Intangible experiences are the reasons that the consumers are seeking today to make their online shopping experience as satisfying as the real shopping experience; this experience still needs to evolvefrom their current state, some of the experiences that an online shopper craves for today are:
- The “Me” Experience: The “Me” experience is about creating customer centric experience and not the product or the brand specific experience. This can only be provided if the website back-end systems are intelligent and aware of every user’s preferences, choices and behavior. For e.g The website remembering the user and acknowledging it when he/ she is online, Rewarding the user for sharing a positive experience in social media, show casing him/ her the content or products most frequented or could be even not bothering him/ her with unnecessary emails and offers for products he is not interested in.
Essentially its about simple things that make an online shopper happy and communicating that every shopper is important and keeping them engaged at all times while providing them a reason to buy of course without being intrusive
Social Shopping: In real world, shopping is often done in groups, as shopping also happens to be a social experience. It’s about creating a social experience while shopping –this facilitates discovery process and increase in product adoption by multiple users– this can be especially useful in the context of new product launches and group buying
- Suggestions: In view of wide array of choices available to the shoppers, many of them want help in their decision-making. Just like in real store there is a sales man to suggest and help; A similar online experience in real-time enables conversions and bridges the gaps between traditional store and online store. It is important to make and good recommendations in as real-time as possible as these suggestions go a long way than just current conversion.
- Agile Customer service: Customer service of e-commerce sites have traditionally depended on calls and emails even when the online shopper is stuck or experiencing difficulties on site. One needs to remember that this is the most vulnerable point for an online shopper and needs immediate attention. But unfortunately not many provide real-time help or solutions to customer queries. This is one of the prime reasons for shopping cart abandons, Channel blurs and page exits.
- Customization: Today it is important for websites to adapt to the customer needs and not expecting them to adapt to the website architecture. Since each visitor is different with different needs and wants, it is important to offer content customization and personalization in as real-time as possible to enable a great customer experience every time. This not only increases the “Me “experience but also enables stickiness and better advocacy of the other customers.
Focus on customers in real-time:
While Many customer experience surveys and researches may show that the prime concerns of online shoppers is Secure check out, Free Shipping, Return Policy, Cash on delivery etc, as their key concerns but many of the problems faced by e-commerce companies can be resolved by adopting real-time platforms, that can not only give consumer behavior & insights but also address customer problems and their needs in real-time. While customers always want to be in control of their shopping, one needs to realize that it’s the e-commerce companies who need to be in control of their customers experience.
The next level of e-commerce would depend not just on customer experience but the speed of providing a good experience. Here’s where real time marketing based on real-time insights helps, and the reasons to believe are as follows:
- Real time Companies have performed better than their counterparts
- Higher conversion possibilities and lower abandon rates
- Integrated view of the customer
- Bridging the gap between online and Offline stores
- Easier and better customer adoption to your offerings
In the end, whatever be development or changes in online customer needs and wants, or the scale of competition and values at stake. Successful companies will be the one who can identify and deliver seamless customer experience – because customers would not be in a hurry to go anyplace else.