One of the big marketing decisions confronting e-commerce vendors today is whether current performance is good enough. Online vendors need to consider their customers’ shopping experience in order to assess existing barriers to stronger shopper responsiveness to digital storefronts.
According to Adobe, the 2020 year-end holiday shopping season saw average daily online revenue exceed $3.1 billion. That is up from $2.3 billion in 2019 — an increase of approximately 33 percent for online sellers. Even better news for the e-commerce industry is that for the first time, every day of the 2020 holiday shopping season exceeded $1 billion in online sales.
But wait. There is more to consider. Sure, sales were high. But retailers were far from perfect. Delayed shipping experiences and sluggish inventory left customers disappointed and looking for more reliable shopping outlets.
Even though the pandemic caused much of that distress, online vendors often failed to be upfront with unexpected circumstances. Online vendors needed to do more to communicate those issues via both social media communications and their websites.
Instead, customers received product cancellation emails. Shoppers meticulously picked out items that unknowingly were already out of stock and entered their credit card information. The retailer was out of stock, and shoppers’ carefully curated items would never arrive at their doorsteps.
Order cancellation is a recurring problem that has not gone away after the holiday shopping frenzy. That situation is caused by a combination of factors that include failure in the supply chain, failure to update the inventory on the website, and failure to not configure the website to track available purchases, according to Chris Dessi, vice president at Productsup.
These and other control failures are rooted in the vendor’s inability to manage the store’s inventory by optimizing the data feed.
“So when they have bad product data, that could mean inventory information. It could also mean the merchant or brand is spending big money driving potential customers to a landing page that does not have the products to sell them. The website might have inappropriate pricing information,” he told CRM Buyer.
Good Enough Not So Good
For retailers who dropped the ball with inaccurate product feeds and promised products that never arrived, it is re-do time. Feed management software and other internal systems can assist in rebuilding a better customer experience. Not having a positive CX for your customers instead can build distrust and major customer disconnect.
“The marketers that are winning are the ones who have a handle on their product data and understand their inventory management. They articulate in the product description that there might be delayed delivery so customers can manage expectations,” said Dessi.
Today a majority of shoppers — even if not locked down — do all of their shopping online. This includes buying outdoor and indoor furniture, food, clothing, and household items. The customer experience is no longer about in the store. It is all about on the screen, he observed.
“If marketers and merchants are not highly focused on the cleanliness of their online data and optimization and management, they will be forgotten by today’s culture. Online is where you are meeting these shoppers. The online experience must be frictionless,” explained Dessi.
The 2020 holiday shopping season was probably the worst on record in terms of shipping delays and availability of inventory, agreed Joseph Ansanelli, CEO and co-founder of Gladly, a customer management software platform. The good news is that retailers who knew in advance could prepare.
One of his customers created a new role on their service team — a dedicated communications coordinator — to monitor CX issues. The coordinator creates emails and messages to proactively communicate with customers. The person in that role makes sure the service team knows what to expect and how to best address it.
“Things have certainly calmed down from the holiday peak, but COVID is still impacting the supply chain. I suppose that is the new normal. Shipping delays have become standard and commerce brands need to set the right expectations with customers,” he told CRM Buyer.
Ansanelli is particularly fond of the Disney Institute’s motto for training service professionals on the best practices of Disney parks and resorts: “It’s not my fault, but it is my problem.”
Even though issues like shipping delays are out of a retailer’s control, taking responsibility for them goes a long way, Ansanelli said.
“Most customers understand that sometimes things go wrong, and if they are treated with empathy, if they feel that the service hero they talk to is doing everything they can to right the wrong, that experience can actually serve to strengthen a customer’s loyalty to the brand,” he added.
Realness Counts, a Lot
In order to rebuild customer relationships, retailers need to be authentic. Admitting there was a mistake in the first place is a great place to start, urged Melissa Sargeant, CMO of email marketing firm Litmus.
“When trying to be authentic and positively personify your brand, ignoring it rather than admitting there was a mistake is devastating to a brand’s identity and to the customer. It makes it seem like they are above it. Brands need to own it,” she told CRM Buyer.
When explaining what went wrong and how you are going to fix it moving forward, make it right by giving the opportunity to share feedback alongside an upgraded experience, she recommended. Also, provide a free product, coupon, or special promotion.
“Show the customers just how valuable they are to you and that you will go the extra mile to repair your relationship,” Sargeant added.
Replace Negative CX With Positivity
Negative shopping experiences do happen. Once they occur, brands have a golden opportunity to show how much their customer means to them by taking the proper action steps to make things right, added Meg Scales, CMO of SlickText, a text message marketing firm.
“After a negative shopping experience, retailers should focus on rebuilding trust and restating value. Rebuilding trust always comes in the form of a genuine apology with clarity on how you will improve for the future,” she told CRM Buyer.
Retailers should use the most personal form of communication possible, text messaging, to do this. That helps to restate value through the same channel by sending your customer exclusive mobile offers that remind them why they loved your brand in the first place, Scales explained.
No one-size-fits-all solution will solve every bad customer experience. Some displeased customers will expect compensation for an issue. Others just want to be heard, according to Ansanelli.
“So enabling your service team to really listen and understand each customer and empowering them to do what they believe is right is important. Like every service conversation, the recovery experience should be personalized to each customer,” he said.
Trust Factors Indispensable
Trust is and will be incredibly important in 2021, noted Scales. Consumers are paranoid about how brands are using their data and have made it clear they are not fans of excessive targeting.
Nearly 75 percent of consumers say they are concerned about their data when interacting with brands. Consumers are also losing trust in how their experience as a customer will unfold, she warned.
“In a 2021 survey on consumer shopping preferences, accurate shipping updates were ranked the number one priority for shoppers, signaling that vendors need to focus on how they can communicate with clarity and authenticity throughout the entire customer experience,” noted Scales.
The one place where consumers can address trust, added Sargeant, is with their wallets. They want to spend their money on vendors that “demonstrate real brand purpose, protect their privacy, consistently deliver on promises, and offer personalized experiences.”
An easy fix for fulfillment and related issues that wear away customers’ trust is adding a CX platform that puts a layer of software between the company’s retail website and its advertising over the entire span of product outlets. This solution is especially effective for vendors using multiple sales outlets, recommended Prouctsup’s Dessi.
The platform tracks all of the inventory. When inventory runs out, the software no longer displays the product, he explained.
This type of CX and marketing platform also automatically updates advertising errors that interfere with getting customers to the checkout page successfully. It can spot problems in the advertising chain that cause vendors to be suspended for violating a condition of their listings with Google Marketplace.
For instance, a major home improvement merchant inadvertently used all caps in a portion of the display online. That led to all of that merchant’s products being removed from display when the Google algorithm detected it.
“A CX platform could have prevented that situation. That software does the intervention automatically and preemptively,” advised Dessi.