We all recognize that the rise in ownership of connected devices is driving the growth of e-commerce. With more and more people turning to their mobile devices to research and make purchases, online transactions are forecast to reach $25 trillion by American Express*. But can the online environment ever truly match the experience of buying in-store? We think it can.
Stores have the differentiating benefit of a branded personal service – although perhaps not all of them are maximizing this advantage to its full potential. That human element allows stores to compensate when something goes wrong, and to add personality to the buying experience. Online retailers have tried to offer the personal element with online chat, but this often feels clunky and obtrusive.
All the elements of service come into sharper focus when buying without the sales associate. E-tailers need to provide the perfect experience, from browsing to adding to the basket, to the checkout and delivery. One mistake and a potential customer simply begins another search. On the street or in the mall that’s not so easily done.
How can you combat this promiscuous behavior? The Amazon Mayday button is a prime example. Kindle users who need help can tap the Mayday button to be connected to a real Amazon expert live on the screen, within a 15 second response time. Not every brand can offer this level of support, but customers transfer their expectations from one brand across to others quickly, so be warned!
Shoppers are creatures of habit: they like to shop in places they know. In the virtual world this kind of loyalty is hard to win, and easy to lose – especially when any number of competitors are just a click away.
This means it is vital to give customers reasons to be loyal. Offer incentives to return and to shop, and provide consistently excellent service. Delivery that customers can control has become a major selling point – and people don’t expect to pay extra for it. Clever retailers are using this as a way to encourage checking out because it has a monetary value. Services such as UPS’s My Choice UPS and DPD’s Predict not only give consumers better information but offer more control over delivery times. But with a major TV ad campaign in the UK airing at the moment – people will become increasingly aware that timed delivery is not only possible – but free – so they will come to expect it from every online retailer.
It’s in the basket
The biggest challenge faced by all retailers is how to convert more browsers into buyers. In the online world we have the benefit of data throughout the purchase journey that can provide useful clues as to why people haven’t checked out. Retailers need to constantly analyze their abandoned baskets and understand where it happens in the customer journey so they can start to fix it.
One approach is to offer a prompt when items are added to the basket, providing a time bound offer to encourage buying in the next five minutes such as a free gift, money off a future purchase, free delivery etc. Time bound baskets aren’t a new idea, they are being used by some online retailers already – but the idea of positive encouragement and incentives could certainly be applied more widely.
Retailing online is more than offering competitive prices. Delivering the excellent service to compete with the experience in-store definitely requires investment. Even where prices are keen, retailers need to consider the lifetime value of a returning customer – not just one sale – and focus resource on keeping and upselling those people, as well as attracting new customers.
For more on e-tailing please contact Andrew Phipps, Global Director Online Retail, at email@example.com.