The behavior shift to increased online shopping during the pandemic is no blip. Experts predict that even after life goes back to some sort of “normal,” more consumers will continue to shop online. COVID-19 has had some interesting effects on not only where consumers shop, but which brands they’re purchasing. For example, many consumers who switched brands due to product shortages or low availability may not switch back. This may come as a big shock to well-established, multi-channel brands that have historically benefitted from pre-pandemic shopping habits, relying on store chains and large online platforms to manage customer service and sell their products for them.
So, to direct-to-consumer (DTC) and multi-channel brands alike: this condensed timeline to increased online shopping presents a significant opportunity for you both, should you choose to seize it. Leveraging the shift to grow a direct customer base gives multi-channel brands control over customer relationships and enables collection of valuable customer data (you won’t be able to buy second- and third-party data forever!). Also, consumers’ willingness to try new brands could provide a major opening for DTC brands to gain new customers and market share. However, if your eCommerce experience doesn’t live up to consumer expectations, you’ll miss the boat.
Customer experience: What not to do
Great eCommerce experiences for customers are now a must-have, not a nice-to-have. While some brands have successfully built engaging customer experiences with branded lifestyle content and subscription programs, there are many, many brands that need to take a close look at the basics of their online shopping experience. For example, I recently bought online from a well-established brand I know and love instead of from my local surf shop, which was closed. Unfortunately, my online shopping experience with my beloved brand was a disaster.
Miss #1: Inadequate product information
While the brand did a good job communicating that my order would take longer than usual to arrive due to COVID, when it did arrive, it was too small, although this size (for other items) had fit me in the past. Apparently, this product had a different fit than the company’s other products, but this wasn’t indicated on the website. In fact, there was only one general sizing chart for all clothing on the site. There were no reviews or notes that this product was different from other products and should be ordered a size up to fit as expected.
Miss #2: Broken return process
I really wanted this item and was nervous it would go out of stock, so I placed a new order for a bigger size and initiated the process to do a return. A week later, I still hadn’t received authorization and a shipping label to enable me to do the return. And my return sits waiting, forlornly, in my kitchen.
Miss #3: Unresponsive customer service
Making things worse, my new order tracking number was invalid, preventing me from tracking my second shipment with the replacement product. Customer support never replied to my email asking for a new tracking number.
In today’s Amazon-dominated world, product information, returns, shipment tracking and timely responses (even if they’re automated!) are pretty basic features. Although this brand makes great clothes, ultimately they relied on my local surf shop to manage the customer relationship. Pre-COVID, this worked out just fine. But not anymore! Bad customer experiences get old, and no matter how cool the brand, consumers will decide to shop someplace else.
Key focus areas for great eCommerce customer experience
The example above is from a great brand with great products. Why are they falling down at the moment of truth? What’s new for many brands is owning the customer experience versus just focusing on branding or product design. Whether your brand is multi-channel or DTC, following is a checklist of the essentials you need to have in place to enable customer experiences that will keep customers coming back.
Your customers can’t touch and see your product in person when they shop online. Product pages must include clear, easily comprehensible product details, great photography or video, reviews, recommendations and more so that customers have all of the information they need make the right purchase.
Help customers select the right size from the get-go and avoid returns. Ensure sizing information is clear and specific to each product. In addition to sizing charts, there’s technology that can help, including augmented reality to “see” products in the home or on body types, and fitting apps that ask consumers questions and provide recommendations. Showing customer reviews regarding fit also can be helpful for potential purchasers; ask height/weight in customer feedback forms to prompt customers to share this information.
Improving your site’s search and filtering capability can go a long way to helping customers more easily find and select the right product. You also can implement product finding tools to help guide more complex purchases.
Once you have the basics covered and consumers can purchase from your eCommerce site without friction, a subscription program can be a useful service to make it more convenient to get refills or regularly try new products. Subscriptions also help you increase customer lifetime value (CLTV) and ensure more reliable revenue streams.
You can help customers purchase what they want or need but can’t comfortably pay for in a single payment by adding payment plan functionality to your eCommerce site. There are tools you can implement that automate payment collection and allow customers to customize how they’ll pay.
Additional areas for consideration
Beyond the basics that ensure customers can easily and enjoyably purchase from you, there are a number of next-level customer experience areas of focus you may want to consider. For example:
- A VIP program for your best customers that gives them special access to new products
- Fun or inspirational lifestyle content or educational content that keeps customers engaged and helps to further integrate your brand into their lives
- Post-purchase support to encourage product use, such as recipes, workout routines, or outfit styling ideas
- Improved transparency and communications around delivery expectations and restocking of out-of-stock products
Making better customer experience a reality – now
Brands have to get their customer experience ducks in a row quickly if they want to position themselves to take advantage of this more rapid shift to online shopping. You don’t have time for six-, eight- or 12-month website builds any more. Fortunately, there are amazing eCommerce platforms like Shopify and Shopify Plus that can give you a strong leg up to beat your competitors and provide the level of customer experience that consumers today expect.