Raising the Bar for Ecommerce: The Omni-Channel Approach to Customer Experience
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In the last decade, the growing adoption of ecommerce has been swift–and ruthless. Huge retail market players like Best Buy and Toys R’ Us are shutting down huge chunks of their physical locations due to plummeting revenue. Not only is this a result of not embracing ecommerce early in its wave, they are also now competing with ecommerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba who sell the same or competing products online.
Traffic drought in physical stores could be attributed to the rising number of purchases made over the internet for certain customer and product segments. For some, the revenue drop is significant. And yet another part of the challenge big box retailers face as publicly traded companies is that they have to answer to their investors–and with ecommerce delivering superior results, the patience afforded to big box retailers is just not as generous.
So, where does the success of ecommerce lie?
At the heart of the growth of ecommerce is its customer-centric nature. With the explosion of internet users, particularly mobile, many buyers prefer the experience of purchasing over the internet and over their smartphones. According to a 2018 study by Accenture and eMarketer, 39.6 percent of the projected $1.357 trillion in global ecommerce sales will be done through smartphones.
While physical stores still dominate the bulk of revenue generated in retail, ecommerce is gaining momentum and is delivering bigger margins for businesses due to the rising cost of rents and inventory holding of physical stores. More and more customers are choosing to buy online, and this changing landscape is proving to be a challenge for physical retailers and a healthy harvesting ground for ecommerce.
Ecommerce challenges and the road ahead
Cart abandonment, subpar after-sales support, and poor inventory forecasting are still the top challenges ecommerce sites face today. All three impact the customer experience directly and ecommerce experts know that revenue growth is a function of CX.
Big players know that consumers are experience-sensitive within ecommerce platforms. Businesses aim to speed up the sales process and create new streams of revenue, and the key to this is to create and maintain an ecommerce environment across touchpoints (web, mobile, social, etc.) that is focused on delivering convenience and superior customer experience.
The omni-channel approach
This omni-channel approach is one that both big and small players need to focus on. Omni-channel in traditional marketing refers to the unified buying experience of customers across various channels. Each interaction with a channel impact a customer’s propensity to purchase and return to the platform across different devices.
Omni-channel is more than just a technology offering or a sales tactic. In today’s world, it encompasses the experience and relationship a customer has with your brand across devices, platforms, and channels.
With the use of data, content, and tech, businesses can and should deliver a seamless experience if they want to win in ecommerce.
A customer’s experience on mobile should match what they experience on the web. Many buyers are familiar with the frustration of losing their wish lists and carts when they choose to continue their buying process on another device.
A seamless experience which syncs these channels gives the customer a level of convenience and personalization that positively impacts their buying decisions.
Omni-channel ecommerce strategies
Here are some strategies you can roll-out for an omni-channel approach to ecommerce:
Better data on customer preferences, interactions, and behavior
More and more customers favor a mixed platform experience. Some customers shop online exclusively, some in-store, but a big chunk of customers traverse back and forth between online and in-store when shopping. This is partly due to the internet being ubiquitous–online ads and shopping have become part of the daily consumer experience.
Customers see an ad online, they buy in-store. They see a product in-store, they shop for a better deal online. Both of these are just examples of the countless platform and channel combinations in buyers’ journeys.
Understanding this process, the triggers, and impacting factors that are involved in various stage of a customer’s purchasing journey is key to delivering a great omni-channel customer experience.
Businesses know that capturing and harnessing this data to improve CX is a crucial part of growth. With how tough competition is in ecommerce, businesses can no longer drop the ball at any point of contact with the customer. Capturing customer data at every point of interaction is essential in delivering superior CX.
This data informs business decisions especially in areas that directly impact CX. This includes pricing, inventory, UX/UI, and after-sales support.
Embracing machine learning to deliver personalization
Customers crave personalization.
The omni-channel approach gives way to a unified and cohesive experience, and in the heart of that is personalization. Related to the first point, businesses now have the ability to harness customer data to deliver a highly-personalized shopping experience.
However, a challenge that many businesses face when it comes to personalization is scalability. It’s not difficult to provide personalized sales and service experience to a hundred web visitors, but ecommerce traffic can easily go to hundreds of thousands to millions each month. There’s no way to manually provide personalization at this scale.
The solution? Embracing machine learning.
Hiring new personnel to scale up with your growth, to analyze all website data is inefficient, especially in this age of machine learning. Machine learning technology eases your team’s workload and automatically processes, analyzes, and makes changes based on the data you’ve captured. Your team’s expertise helps inform and set the strategy, and machine learning can automate its implementation in your daily operations. Of course, machine learning algorithms work with your data, so the more data you capture, the more sophisticated they can be when delivering the personalized experience to your customers.
Ecommerce customers respond positively when they feel that a brand knows what they want and understands them. Online business must be sensitive to this and show the customer what they are likely to purchase, and machine learning can help them automate and scale that. Overall, it’s a positive experience for both ends when done right.
Integrating physical with ecommerce
The omni-channel experience is not contained within the confines of online shopping. For many brands, the integration of the physical and online buying journey is essential. Thankfully, technology has opened doors to address this.
The wide adoption of mobile consumer technology allows business to engage with their customers wherever they are – including in-store. Through geolocation and geofencing, businesses can apply personalization and targeting tactics to provide a seamless in-store and online experience to buyers.
Some online shoppers might have doubts when purchasing certain items. This could happen in apparel and when purchasing high ticket items. There’s no reason to not deliver a seamless experience even in the face of these doubts.
There are many instances where disjointed operations of brick and mortar shops and online stores cause negative experiences to a shopper. Imagine, a shopper sees a dress they like online for a certain price but want to try it on first. At the store, the dress fits but the price is significantly higher than the online price.
A failure to address these types of situations results to a negative customer experience. Given the sensitive if not finicky nature of consumers when it comes to brand loyalty and spending, these small situations when multiplied in scale directly impact revenue for any business.
Consistent after-sales support
After-sales service is a sore spot for consumers. The experience of having to provide all your info again–sometimes through unsecured channels like email!–to get after-sales service is one that’s not only frustrating for the consumer, it also represents the kind of service a brand is able to deliver.
The concept that acquisition is more expensive than retention applies to ecommerce as well. The amount of marketing spend business have to make to increase their acquisition numbers is surprising. David Skok once shared that JustFab, an online fashion retailer that’s part of their investment portfolio, has scaled really well but at the expense of suffering margins because of the sheer amount of marketing dollars required to get new buyers.
While customer acquisition is definitely a wheel in the cog that you can’t do without, putting a prime on retaining the customers you acquired is doubly important to get the most mileage out of your resources.
Now, on ecommerce sites, a bulk of the after-sales service is coursed through the website. Many companies use a central FAQ with a contact form in case the issue wasn’t addressed. Live chat, email, and phone are other common channels. In many cases, agents will ask for information when you reach out, even when you’re still logged in or are using an email address associated with your account.
Even for simple order-related questions, agents usually would ask for specifics like order number and product name. The companies have the information, why can’t reps just look it up in the system? This data disorganization severely influences a customer’s experience with your brand and their likelihood to make a repeat purchase.
When it comes to after-sales, customer satisfaction is achieved through swift and accurate handling of the issue.
Having your data unified in one place and accessible to agents at the moment of interaction whether by email, live chat, or phone, ensures that a seamless experience is delivered to the customer. Also, shaving a couple of seconds out of each conversation positively impacts not only the customer experience but also team productivity.
Raising the bar for today and the future
The omni-channel approach to ecommerce is in its heart a customer-centric pursuit. It drives customer satisfaction while directly improving revenue growth for a business. The ability of a customer to access your brand wherever they are is essential to win today and the future, but it will all amount to little if the customer experience is not up to their satisfaction.
CX and the omni-channel approach go hand in hand in giving customers swift, easy, and pleasurable ways to shop for what they want.