The E-commerce Customer Journey: Understanding the Basics
Ever heard of the e-commerce store, Keus, that dares to think out of the box or in their case, lines. Its playful and casual website layout offers horizontal scroll features and sideways navigation. Go figure.
An out-and-out crazy e-commerce website, Studio Job, ups the "quirk ante," and well, sells art objects. From in-your-face visuals and humorous content to unimaginable micro-interactions, this website has it all.
An e-commerce experience that's organic and conversational. That's Femme & Fierce for you.
An e-commerce shoe store, Toms, becomes a million-dollar entity by giving away thousands of shoes. How so? They hit gold by simply integrating audience engagement and social outreach programs into their marketing strategy.
And all these extraordinary examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to transforming the customer experience. Don't believe us? Get this:
Lateral thinking. Check.
Innovative CX. Check.
Creating a dent in the hyper-competitive e-commerce universe, check.
As you may have guessed, today, we will look at how brands, big or small, have been enriching their customer journey from start to finish. Here are four handy tips to get you started:
1. Connecting the Dots: "e-commerce CX" with "ROI"
First things first, let's jump right into the numbers that matter and look at how e-commerce profitability gets affected due to positive and negative customer experiences:
Positive Customer Experiences:
- 2X the revenue: Billion-dollar companies can expect to earn over $700 million within a period of three years post investing in efforts that further their customer experience.
- Greater profits: Around 86% of buyers are ready to pay more for great customer experience - around a price premium of up to 13-18% to be exact.
- Increased customer retention: Happy customers will always come back for more. And that's good for the brand because research by HBR claims that "acquiring new customers is 5-25X more expensive than retaining them."
- Optimized marketing spends: Data by McKinsey claims that personalized customer experiences can deliver 5-8X the ROI on marketing spend and lift sales by 10%.
Negative Customer Experiences:
- Increased churn rates: 67% of customers mention bad experiences as a reason for refusing to engage with the brand.
- Bad brand image, increased losses: Around 39% of consumers will avoid vendors for over two years after having a negative experience. The business and profit losses this can translate to is a no-brainer - you do the math.
- Reduced time-period to make "amends": As per Accenture's research, " Unhappy customers act fast — half quit doing business with a company immediately after a bad sales/marketing experience, one-quarter take to social media, and 54% start engaging with other companies."
Key Takeaway: The "customer experience-ROI" dynamics is as polarized as it is prevalent. Your brand maybe, knowingly or unknowingly, experiencing "unexplained" highs and lows. If this is the case, it's time to go back to the drawing board and revisit your CX strategies with a magnifying glass and laser-eye focus.
2. Mapping the e-commerce User Journey
A user's journey is the way by which they interact with the brand before making a purchase. It includes six stages that ultimately define the customer service landscape. These include:
In this stage, the customer is getting to know the brand. They'll bounce all over the place and try to gather as much information as they can about your brand.
First impressions or rather "first clicks" can make all the difference. Take, for instance, the Azteca Soccer’s homepage which offers a 360-degree view of the products available and combines great photography and bright colors to reel the readers in.
Why it matters:
A consistent and coherent homepage can empower customers to understand the options that are available at their disposal and whether or not they want to pursue the offering further.
You can use quantitative tools at this stage to understand buyer behavior/patterns. Also, remember that a user typically gets on your website through powerful social media campaigns or PPC advertising campaigns so make sure the messaging and branding stay aligned.
In this stage, the customers are weighing their options, and hence, they may get "filtered".
To help customers feel more connected with the brand and make faster decisions, provide all the requisite knowledge, offers, contact support, and deals they think the customer will need.
Bliss channels equal parts fun and knowledge to deliver a single page, easily accessible website. Plus, it helps to bring the whole experience together by placing interactive images on the home page.
Why it matters:
A well-organized and super-categorized platform gives customers the freedom, space, and flexibility to choose what they like/dislike.
Typically, this is where the tectonic shift from low to high intent occurs, and the customer starts to make up their mind. In a sense, it is an extension of the "Consideration" phase.
Consider the example shown below. Once the customer has browsed through the products and narrowed the choices to a specific one they like, they will go ahead and add items to the cart. For all intents and purposes, they’re now moving towards concluding stages of the buying process.
Why it matters:
Creatively inclined online platforms that are amped up with great graphics and on-point product/service knowledge can empower customers to make an informed purchase decision. This instills greater confidence in the users and extends a feel-good factor throughout the purchase cycle.
This is the stage where the customer "checks out" and purchases as per his liking. This is the end-goal every e-commerce brand hopes to achieve with first-time and repeat buyers, that too, as seamlessly and conveniently as possible.
How positive customer experience impacts the user’s decision in this stage:
If there are instances of a customer abandoning cart, friendly and informal emails such as this can lure the customer back to the purchase cycle.
Why it matters:
For E-commerce brands, having an inconvenient checkout process is like luxury brands selling stained bags and torn clothes at sky-high prices - absolutely unacceptable, right?
Typically, it is seen that pages that take too long to load or ones that require an infinite number of details from the customer can lead to a frustrated and unhappy on-looker. No points for guessing that sooner than later, the customer will abandon ship..err we mean cart.
So, any E-commerce brand worth its salt should conduct A/B testing and see what’s working for them and what’s not - especially when it comes to the checkout page. Plus, sending friendly and informal emails such as the example shown below can lure the customer back to the purchase cycle.
As demonstrated above, various factors come together to deliver an app/website that is easy-to-use, convenient and maximizes user satisfaction.
A great UI-UX-driven platform effectively translates a user’s emotions and attitudes relating to the product in question into the websites design and various other touchpoints that the user ends up interacting with (Home Page, checkout page, payments page, accounts page, etc.)
All in all, a well thought out UI/UX with a hassle-free, preferably one-step checkout process - like Made’s clean and clear one-step checkout webpage - helps to ensure that the customer leaves the page feeling satisfied with reduced shopping cart abandonment rate.
A true customer is a returning customer. Getting first-time users to log onto your e-commerce website is great, but getting repeat customers to keep coming back for more is even better. In short, brands need to focus on creating a loyal user base as organically as possible. This could be done by including an interesting and customized “Rewards Program” on the website that clearly demonstrates to the users: “What’s in it for them?.”
One brilliant example that comes to mind is the rewards program by the brand, The North Face as highlighted below. Plus, the brand takes the program and user engagement one step further by creating a convenient app that allows customers to:
- Manage their account.
- Track the points amassed.
- Buy new products.
- Redeem rewards basis the points earned.
Why it matters:
Customer-friendly programs ensure repeat purchases and the latter in turn, can help in sky-rocketing profits and ensure that the brand is moving towards a sustainable future. Loyalty programs, customized emails (Thank You, Birthday Discounts), etc. work wonders to ensure your user feels special and above all, valued.
Very few brands reach the advocacy phase where users become self-proclaimed brand ambassadors and accept its offering no-questions-asked. The idea is simple. When you see customers recommending your brand to their friends and family voluntarily, the job is done. The next steps for the company should be to further expand its footprint and reach new audiences, preferably on a global scale.
Why it matters:
Sephora’s Beauty Insider’s Loyalty Program deserves a special mention here. Thoughtfully designed with a user-friendly mobile app, customers can use the loyalty card that’s embedded in the app and redeem rewards for loyalty points earned. Needless to say, enjoying free samples and testers of new products make this program an instant hit.
That’s not all. The app and their website focus on the minute details such as "fast page loading time," sufficient inventory, useful product/service images, up-to-date and interactive content, hassle-free "guest" checkout, safe and secure payments to give the customers exactly what they want and more.
3. E-commerce CX Management: The Ultimate "Measurement" Factor
"Just because interaction with a brand takes place remotely on a personal device, the experiences customers have online are just as tangible and important for retail businesses to consider as the ones in-store." - Decibel Insight
Customer Experience Management may sound like a heavy-duty phrase, but it is deceivingly simple. Stripped down to its basics, it refers to how an e-commerce company measures and improves its interactions with the customer on its online platform.
But why should any e-commerce brand expend all that energy, effort, and resources to measure customer experiences out of all the things?
In view of the rising customer expectations, here are three compelling reasons to consider:
- Data suggests that around 12 positive experiences can resolve one negative customer experience.
- A staggering 84% of customers expect to be treated like a person, not a number.
- Around 33% of Americans claim they would switch companies after just one single instance of poor service.
Simply, if you wish to measure your brand's success, measure it in terms of your happy customers. To that end, it becomes imperative to understand the two most important factors that affect customer experience management and help companies to measure e-commerce customer experience. These are:
A. Qualitative factors:
- Reviews: These include customer reviews, feedback, opinions, etc. done via online surveys through mail/phone.
- Online chat interactions: Communication with the brand's support team can decode key user insights regarding motivation for purchase & emotions with products. Using the live chat feature, you can uncover valuable data surrounding a customer’s behavior from the chat transcripts. It also provides a glimpse into what the customers feel about your website/offering and whether their user experience has been satisfying thus far. Using these critical points of information, the team can deploy corrective measures and work on these insights (positive or negative) to drive the sales funnel by helping them to move forward within the various CX stages.
Here below is a classic example of how companies can use Facebook ads to redirect users so that they can converse with bots in case they have any concerns/queries.
B. Quantitative factors:
- Insight-driven tools: Tools such as Hotjar etc. help to extract existing data from customer insights by leveraging innovative features like heatmaps, clicks, impressions data etc. These provide data about a user's on-page behavior like where customers click, hover, and scroll. Plus, tools like Google Analytics can help to throw light on valuable data such as "Most-Viewed Product" sections, conversion rates, churn rates, among other things.
Key Takeaway: Measuring Qualitative + Quantitative Insights = An Ultimate e-commerce Customer Experience which Mirrors the Customer's Sentiments.
4. Tried-&Tested Ways of Improving Customer Experience
If experience is anything to go by, there are two ways by which you can provide a stellar customer experience. These are:
A. A Long-Term Strategy, A Permanent Solution.
- Etsy: Offer a customized and personalized "Onboarding" program like the one by Internet's largest boutique stores, "Etsy" to make a lasting “first impression” among e-commerce users. Its onboarding process looks something like this:
Step 1: Sign Up to get "Personalized Recommendations."
Step 2: Store "favorite" items to get better recommendations and come back to buy later (if at all).
Step 3: Browse through "Editor Picks" in case the "Favorites" section is empty.
- Skullcandy: Add a visible “Internal Search” section like the one shown here on the top-right corner that's complemented with smooth and familiar navigation.
- Fronks: Rethink and rework on the UI/UX of the website in order to enhance “user experience.” Go for simple, minimal, and fresh, like Fronks.
- ASOS: Streamline the checkout process and keep the "barriers" (sign up/mandatory registration/too much content/too many fields to fill) to a minimum. Plus, ensure that there aren't any errors on checkout such as:
A. No sign up/login bugs.
B. No third-party payment platform failures. (A BIG TURN OFF!).
Important: All ASOS did was remove the "Registration Process" from the page and its checkout abandonment rate lowered by 50%!
- Whole Foods: Explore new customer support channels such as:
- An "FAQ" section.
- An integrated AI-enabled Chatbot like the one used by Whole Foods (as shown above). This Facebook Messenger Bot brings with itself the best of recipes, ingredients, and tons of cooking inspiration. Data suggests that the chatbot drives traffic to the website from Facebook where people are spending almost 50 minutes a day!
- Glossier: Encourage user-generated content as a beauty cult company Glossier does. By encouraging users to post their pictures on social media and leveraging the power of word-of-mouth publicity, their campaign resulted in 1,700 user-generated images and over 6,000 images accumulated over a period of one month. It also helps to crowdsource tips on future offerings and establishes a loyal fan base. In addition to using social media, you can also build platforms such as forums & a community group for users to share their queries and exchange resources. Very, very powerful stuff if you ask us.
- Flipkart: Encourage e-mail marketing automation, which can be done by:
- Customizing the email template depending upon the user’s stage in the purchase journey. It should ensure that it's in-sync with the reader as the mail from Flipkart displays (shown above). This email was sent right after Republic Day to instill a sense of patriotism among the users.
- 23andMe: Ensure continuous feedback collection:
- After every stage of user interaction, integrate feedback collection procedure to receive more frequent views of users.
- Make an action plan for implementing feedback to e-commerce processes/offers.
- Target/Walmart: e-commerce giants such as Walmart and Target have invested in a fool-proof inventory management software that helps to:
- Reduce efforts from the shipping side in terms of multi-channel inventory management.
- Understand the minimum viable stock levels, Just-In-Time inventory, First-In-First-Out inventory, forecasting demand, inventory auditing, etc.
- Support users to get quality products at home.
- Integrate with CRM software for getting an overall view of buyer persona which supports the marketing team to deliver personalized offers.
B. Leverage Customized Assistance, for "Real"
If you think real-time support is still optional today, think again. Here are the top-5 advantages of using a modern-day live chat support tool:
- Addresses query instantly and effectively.
- Provides customized and collaborative experiences.
- Facilitates seamless internal collaboration, especially between the support team.
- Ensures hassle-free routing of support requests to the responsible department.
- Helps support agents to cater to users in real-time, armed with valuable inputs and past data from the dashboard.
Key Takeaway: Continuous and relentless improvements (graphic, design, user experience, support tools, etc.) in customer experience can ensure that your customers become voluntary brand ambassadors of your company's growth story.
Writing is on the Cart, Umm...Wall
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” - Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
Consistent CX improvisations and technological interventions across the multi-dimensional "Brand-Customer" digital interactions can make or break e-commerce brands today.
In fact, Gartner predicts that around 60% of "Innovation-First" companies are already looking into ways to build their AI strategies, while the other 40% have already adopted automated solutions into their existing e-commerce model.
Clearly, the future of e-commerce customer experience rests upon futuristic technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) & machine learning tools integrated with strategic customer experience enhancing strategies discussed above. So, if you wish to deliver meaningful value to your users with the objective to reduce churn and boost retention, try these tips and above all, trust your instinct.
Sam Makad is a business consultant. He helps small & medium enterprises to grow their businesses and overall ROI. You can follow Sam on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.