The best e-commerce marketing programs build excitement about your store, show customers that you have what they want or need, and promise convenience and service that makes shopping with you a pleasure. As consumers, we want to be recognized and catered to, and we can always use more convenience and positive experiences – especially during a time when there's more uncertainty than usual.
But what happens after your great marketing brings customers to your store? Do they experience the convenience you promised, or is navigation a hassle? Do they get suggestions for things they like or suggestions that show you don't know them as well as your marketing indicated? And can they actually spend money with you, or will your fraud prevention program reject them?
When your customer experience (CX) undermines the marketing messages you use to bring in shoppers, you're not only competing against your competitors, but you're also competing against yourself. And that's more common than you might expect.
Is there a disconnect between CX trends and CX reality?
CX mattered before 2020 as a competitive differentiator for e-commerce, and it will matter in the future. However, the way CX has affected consumers has changed this year, as more people have shifted the bulk of their purchasing to online stores for delivery and curbside pickup. While retailers have hustled to meet new demands, it appears that there's a fairly consistent mismatch between the experience retailers want to deliver and what customers get.
Digital experience agency Isobar surveyed more than 1,300 chief marketing officers during 2020 to see how customer experience expectations have changed since the start of the pandemic. Some 64% said they'd changed their CX strategy "completely or moderately" to adapt, and 39% put more focus on e-commerce.
Among the e-commerce features they said they're most focused on for better CX are AI, chatbots and conversational voice interfaces, all of which can make it easier for customers to find exactly what they want.
However, consumers – at least in the U.S. – are now reporting decreased overall satisfaction with their experiences at many retailers, according to a monthslong COVID-19 retail CX study by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The survey of more than 30,000 consumers from April through September asked shoppers to rate their recent retail experiences.
It found that customer satisfaction declined in four out of five retail categories: internet, specialty stores, department stores and supermarkets. Drugstore satisfaction didn't fall, but it didn't improve.
Customers say retail shopping experiences are getting worse. In particular, satisfaction with retailers' mobile apps, both the quality and the reliability, took hits this year, even as many retailers rolled out or upgraded apps to make online ordering easier. Supermarket apps, which many people have relied on during stay-at-home orders, saw the biggest declines in satisfaction, dropping by 2% for quality and 4% for reliability.
Some of the poor experiences consumers have had this year are likely related to the pandemic: shortages, stockouts and rushed deployments of new features and services likely all played a role. However, as Grocery Dive notes, customer satisfaction with retail experiences fell in 2018 and 2019, too, according to previous ACSI data.
Adding AI, voice, and chatbot features to retail apps and web stores may help customers have a better experience, but it seems like there are some foundational CX problems that many merchants need to sort out first.
Focus on fixing CX basics
For retailers who don't have strong, consistently improving CX ratings, it may be wise to focus time and resources on refining their basic e-commerce CX before adding new features so that it supports their marketing instead of undermining it.
You can start by evaluating how well your e-commerce experience really works. If your marketing promises convenience, but your store's app is poorly designed and hard to use, that's a problem. Part of the solution is to make sure your marketing doesn't pledge more than your technology can deliver. This requires clear communication with your development team, and maybe some adjustments to your messaging. The other component is to focus on what your store can do better now.
One way to improve your e-commerce app function and the experience your customers have with it is to build a low-code app instead of a native app, because low-code doesn't require your developers to reinvent the wheel. Instead, low-code apps leverage your store's existing data and support to "enable a great experience." This kind of app is also faster to build and easier to test, so you can prepare, launch, and incorporate customer feedback rapidly.
When you're working with one e-commerce system, instead of using a separate system for your app, you can avoid basic but common CX pitfalls like sign-in hassles, personalization misfires and outdated stock level information. But having a great app and webstore isn't the only way you can align your CX with your marketing.
The ultimate test of marketing promises kept: CX at checkout
Is your store's checkout easy to use? A March 2020 Sapio Research five-country consumer survey commissioned by ClearSale found that half of consumers polled abandoned purchases because the checkout process took too long or was too complicated. Thirty-four percent said they'd abandoned a cart because the merchant required them to create an account.
When your customers place an order, does their experience undermine the marketing message that you recognize them and value their business? If your fraud-screening program is generating false positives and automatically rejecting those orders, that's what's happening.
Industry data and our own research show anywhere from 30 to 65% of declined orders are actually good orders. Often, fully automated programs kick these orders out because of small data mismatches that manual review would quickly resolve.
False declines create short- and long-term losses. For example, if you spend $50 to acquire a customer, they put $300 worth of goods in their cart for their first transaction, and then you treat them like a fraudster, you've not only lost the profit on their order, you've lost the marketing dollars you spent bringing them to your store.
Next, there's lost customer lifetime value. Once a store insults them, customers are often gone for good. Forty-two percent told Sapio they won't try again with another payment method; 39% will never shop there again.
Finally, there's brand damage that can raise customer acquisition costs. Twenty-eight percent of consumers told Sapio they'd likely complain on social media after a store rejected their order.
The solution is to review flagged orders. This allows you to approve more orders from good customers, increase your average customer lifetime value and build loyalty instead of taking brand damage.
Align your messaging and CX to keep customers satisfied
The most effective marketing campaigns promise a convenient experience, recommend items the customer will be interested in and show that they recognize the customer across channels. However, for that marketing spend to be effective, the store's CX has to carry through with those promises.
The evidence from this challenging year suggests that despite retailers’ efforts to create better e-commerce experiences quickly for their customers in 2020, there's room for improvement, especially in retail apps and false decline reduction, and it starts with the basics.
Investing in making your app and web store easier to use, and manually reviewing orders to avoid false positives can help your brand live up to its marketing promises, provide a great experience, and strengthen customer loyalty.