An exceptional customer experience is essential leading into 2022: Experts weigh in

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a series of ecommerce predictions.

Shopping patterns have shifted rapidly over the course of the last two years. While ecommerce was already on the rise, the pandemic accelerated its adoption and continues to change how brands and customers interact.

Almost every brand is digital, so now online shoppers have more choices than ever. With more competition, brands need to stand out with a seamless, customer-centric experience.

That’s what Nick Raushenbush, Cofounder and COO at Shogun, believes. 

“The brands that shine will keep their customers at the center of everything they do,” he says. “From how they design their online store to how they choose to source their products.”

In Showgun’s 2021 State of Direct-to-Consumer Buying Report, they found that 22% of shoppers in the US won’t make a purchase if the experience isn’t a smooth one. 

“This encompasses site load times, as well as a seamless checkout,” Raushenbush notes. “Brands will continue to need to think about the experiences that attract repeat online shoppers—many of whom began shopping with new stores during the pandemic.”

Make it easy for customers to be confident when purchasing online

Part of the resistance to online shopping for some customers is that they can’t see or touch a product. And if customers don’t feel confident about their purchase—they won’t buy.

This may sound obvious, but bridging this gap is where many brands fall short. Focus on your on-site experience and review your store policies to smooth out the customer journey. Incorporate user-generated content (UGC) from partners and customers to encourage shoppers to move further along in their journey.

Improve the on-site experience for friction-free shopping

There are many things that brands can experiment with to improve the online buying experience. But whatever you do—your goal should be to help customers feel confident with their purchase. If your customers have to dig through a large FAQ database or contact customer service to find simple answers—you’re going to lose people.

To help with the online experience, brands should consider providing:

  • In-depth product information: ingredients, materials, and features
  • Educational content: how to use and care for a product
  • Videos: to show a product in use
  • Fit finders and product quizzes: to help people find the right product
  • Lifestyle imagery: using a variety of imagery, including diverse and size-inclusive models if applicable, to help people visuals products in their lives

Raushenbush also recommends showing ample product reviews, a variety of product options, and ways to compare products in a single view.

Shopper-centric customer service is key for brands to differentiate themselves in a saturated market

As the ecommerce landscape becomes saturated, you’ll need to differentiate yourself with a shopper-first approach to customer service. This includes posting customer-centric policies, which are essential for shoppers to have confidence when purchasing online. Customers need to know that if a product doesn’t meet their expectations, there’s a return policy in place—so there’s no risk in making a purchase.

Customer service can’t be the place where you spend as little as possible, like when you try to optimize the number of support tickets your agents can complete. Instead, approach it as a channel to build customer loyalty by prioritizing your customer through easy resolutions to problems.

Amazon is everyone’s #1 competitor, so brands need to be proactive.  

“People are now getting used to A1 customer experience and service,” Martin Roy, President at Gorila Fitness, explains. 

These days, customers expect easy resolutions from brands. Defective products should be easy for customers to replace, or exchange for a refund. Support agents should take the time to understand a customer’s needs to be better able to recommend the right products. This also prevents the customer from having to contact support multiple times. When resolving an issue is easy, it builds loyalty with your customers.

Create a nearly risk-free online shopping experience for your customers by offering:

  • Free shipping and returns: Make it easy for customers to try your product without having to worry about paying a $15+ shipping fee if they have to return it.
  • At-home try-ons: Eyeglass company Warby Parker lets their customers try on five frames at home for free. And denim company Mott & Bow allows their customers to try a second size of jeans for free with the purchase of the first pair—making it easy for customers to shop when they’re in between sizes without fronting the extra cash.
  • Generous guarantees and warranties: Toothbrush company Quip offers a lifetime warranty, as long as customers have an active subscription. Apparel company Bombas will replace or refund any item—whether it was a manufacturing defect or even if your dog chewed it up.

Tie user-generated content into the buying experience

When customers can’t feel or test your product in person, user-generated content (UGC) becomes an important vehicle to improve the online shopping experience.

Seeing other people unbox, test, and review your product increases customer confidence that the product will meet their expectations.

When your affiliates, ambassadors, or customers share their experience online, ask to use their content. Place that content in ads, repost on social media, or in other marketing communications—like browse abandonment campaigns—to build customer confidence.

Customer support needs to adapt to a digital audience

Going digital means more than just exchanging emails with customers. Your customer support channel needs to be closer to a concierge service, with representatives who are available to provide recommendations and answer questions about products. 

During the pandemic, Joshua Elner, coowner of Halifax Watch Company, says that he’s seen many retailers offer video sales calls as a way to recreate the in-store experience

“Convenience is key when communicating with customers,” Elner says. 

Gym+Coffee also knows the benefits of video communications. The brand’s StyleFit service connects customers with retail staff for video consultations. A Gym+Coffee’s team member can help customers find the right gear, and they can even offer advice on style and sizing. 

Launching the StyleFit service also helped the brand prevent layoffs. When lockdowns shuttered Gym+Coffee’s stores, they trained their retail staff to help customers with this online experience. Video calls let shoppers get the information that they’re looking for during the research stage of their journey.

Headless commerce makes fast load times possible for customized online experiences

To craft the perfect customer experience, many brands create custom shopping experiences that go beyond a store template. One barrier for customers to engage is slow load times due to the technical constraints of traditional commerce.

“You can’t sacrifice site speed as you make site improvements,” Rashenbush explains. “So, more brands are looking to headless commerce or using progressive web apps to achieve the blazing-fast load times shoppers have come to expect.”

Shogun’s 2021 report found that 55% of consumers expect a fast site load time of four seconds or fewer on mobile devices. Brands need to be able to create the best experience for customers while maintaining fast load times—and that’s one of the strengths of headless commerce.

Headless commerce can easily craft the exact experience that you want for customers,   creating a great journey for shoppers without having to worry about making changes on the back end.

An excellent digital experience is important for holiday shopping

Customers want their gifts to arrive in time for the holidays, and emotions are running high. Brands need to provide a smooth customer experience for their customers. Making your website intuitive, offering excellent customer service, and providing product fulfillment will go a long way towards reducing the stress of holiday shopping.

“Odds are that most shoppers had a great experience with online shopping—and the benefits outweigh the mall traffic,” says Jeff Arsenault, director of marketing at Clayton & Crume. “Instead of fighting crowds in stores, you can expect more consumers to choose to do their holiday shopping online.”

Prepare your customer service team

Make sure your customer service team is well-equipped to answer product questions and fix issues on their own, without having to escalate the issue to a manager.

“With the rise of online shoppers, it’s natural to see an increase of overall questions and inquiries come through,” Arsenault explains. “We’ve put a focus on building out our CX team ensuring those questions are answered as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

A quick response time means that customers can move forward with their purchases—and not go to your competition. Even if it’s only temporary, it might be worth thinking about expanding your customer service team for the holidays.

Mitigate shipping issues by being agile and transparent

“Beyond your online buying experience, fulfillment and shipping is key,” Arsenault notes. “With the amount of packages arriving on doorsteps, some shipping carriers seem to still be playing catch up.” 

It’s important to make a game plan to mitigate those issues so that your shoppers can place their orders in time for the holidays.

“Last year, we made the call to change shipping carriers in the height of the holiday season due to slower than normal delivery times,” Arsenault says.

Most brands choose carriers with the best price for their delivery service. But if delays mount during the holidays, switching to a more expensive—but more reliable—delivery service could create a better experience for your customers. By upgrading your delivery service, you can maintain customer loyalty with on-time deliveries and avoid any post-holiday returns due to late packages.

Arsenault recommends that you make sure that your orders are easily trackable to set your customers’ minds at ease. 

“With the slower turnaround times for shipping carriers, the key to winning here is transparency,” Arsenault explains. “Customers don’t care how busy you are, they want to know when their order is heading out the door—and when they can expect it on their doorstep.”

Get creative to manage the holiday swell

One way to ease the four-day surge and mitigate shipping issues is to consider giving VIP members early access to holiday sales, specials, and product launches. If you start early, you can earn their business with less competition and get packages out the door in plenty of time.

Out-of-stock inventory and high demand making holiday sales make less sense? See how Gorila Fitness pivoted from discounts and focused on content to keep customers coming back during the holidays.

Brands that offer seamless omnichannel experiences will excel

Experts agree that the future is omnichannel. While ecommerce adoption has accelerated, many customers will want to shop in a store—and even more will want to blend in-store and online shopping interactions with brands. Synergizing your brick and mortar and digital stores will be key to providing a seamless customer experience.

“The brands with long-term success have a presence across all purchasing channels,” Sara Du, CEO & cofounder of Alloy, explains.

Whenever Gym+Coffee opens a new retail store, online sales in the surrounding area rise. 

Alison Sheehy, digital marketing manager at Gym+Coffee, confirms, “We have had huge demand for click and collect in our brick and mortar stores.” 

Customers need to be able to continue their online shopping journey in person

Customers are spending more time pre-shopping their local boutiques online, so that when they do go in person, they have a plan,” Ellner explains. “This helps with time management for both the customer and the retailer.”

Customers want to be able to browse online, shop in-store, or do curbside pick up. Local inventory needs to be synced online, and this blended experience needs to be simple for customers.

In addition to shopping, accepting returns or exchanges for online orders in-store means that customers can do what’s most convenient for them. The easier all these processes are for them—the more likely they’ll shop with you.

Integrate your marketing stack for seamless personalization

Omnichannel adds a layer of complexity. If someone browses a product online and then buys it in-store—they shouldn’t get a browse abandonment email the next day. Integrating all your systems for personalization across digital and in-person experiences makes for a better customer journey.

Want to find out more about seamless omnichannel experiences? Read how confectionery brand Lakrids by Bülow bridges the gap between digital and in-store experiences.

A seamless customer experience means prioritizing the customer

It’s never been more important for brands to make a good impression quickly. As ecommerce evolves and customer expectations grow, new tactics arise to help you stand out from the competition.

But creating a great experience is more than just tactics—it’s a mindset of knowing and prioritizing your customers. Capture your customers’ attention—and their loyalty—by creating meaningful connections with them from their very first touchpoint.

Looking for more tips to improve your ecommerce experience? Learn how to create customer loyalty without price sensitivity.

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