There’s no doubt that customers today want more from their online shopping experience than they did even a few years ago. Gone are the days when buying online simply meant sitting down at your desktop computer, loading a few things into an online cart and hitting the big ‘Pay Now’ button. The modern shopper expects easy, instant, smooth access to online stores via smartphones and tablets; they expect product information and recommendations, online-only discounts, offers and promotions, a diverse and fully stocked online catalogue to browse; and they expect a quick and easy checkout service. In short, online shopping has been transformed from something people did out of necessity to something which is done for fun – a leisure activity which they want to be enjoyable.
These days they also expect to be treated well not just before they reach your online checkout, but afterwards too. When things go wrong (because things do go wrong from time to time) online shoppers rightly expect and demand that they are treated with care and not simply abandoned because they have already parted with their money. Whether it’s a complaint about a technical glitch on your website, items gone missing in the mail or products arriving which are faulty, damaged or the wrong size or colour; treating customers as human beings rather than conversion statistics and making them feel valued and listened to is vital.
While many companies invest heavily in ensuring that their websites look and feel slick and modern, far too few examine the customer experience post-Pay Now click. Whatever your business sells, whatever services you market online, you ignore this critical aspect of the online shopping journey at your peril. With instant access to countless online review sites, forums, blogs and social media platforms, your customers can vent their frustrations and share their stories with the wider world instantly. And reputations can be made and broken on the back of what they say. How, then, can e-commerce companies show they care beyond the checkout and keep their online customers coming back for more?
The retail journey: no short-cuts
According to survey data published in the Harvard Business Review, only 16% of online retailers expressed an interest in customer retention despite the oft-quoted statistic that says it costs at least five times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Whether that’s down to a simple loss of interest once they have dispatched the goods or an arrogance that says there are millions more fish in the e-commerce sea, it’s clear that the vast majority of online retailers are seriously failing when it comes to thinking about how best to build and maintain customer relationships and a healthy brand image.
You might think that the retail journey has ended for you once the goods have left the distribution hub, but for the customer, the journey is ongoing post-checkout. First, they will sit at home waiting for the much-anticipated products to arrive, then they’ll open and use them for the first time. And, depending on the experience they have with them, they may post reviews, order more of the same or return to your online store to buy something else from you.
If when the goods arrive the customer finds there is an issue, then it certainly isn’t the end. If your business has failed to build a meaningful relationship with that customer, if the treatment they receive when they attempt to make a complaint or request a refund or replacement is poor, then there’s a very real possibility that they will shout about it online. One customer venting their frustrations via Twitter is bad enough, but if a company’s poor post-checkout care is endemic in the business and customers are regularly feeling neglected and undervalued, then the brand will inevitably run into reputational damage, a loss of sales and a tarnished brand image. It can be very difficult to recover.
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Show that you care
Nobody likes to be treated as a statistic or a walking wallet. Good treatment after they have made a purchase makes a real difference to how people feel towards your company, and greatly influences how likely they are to come back. If a shopper has a bad experience but you can resolve the situation to their satisfaction, you may have salvaged a relationship and secured future sales both from them and from the people they spread the word to in ‘real’ life and online. Thoughtful, well-managed post-purchase care shows you value your customers and see them as people rather than pound signs.
So how can you prove that your company is interested in its clients and customers beyond the checkout? One step you can take is keeping in touch, providing customers with up-to-date tracking information on where their goods are provided reassurance and show you’re taking an interest beyond simply boxing them up and shoving them in the post. If they haven’t unsubscribed from further communication with you, personalised emails recommending other products or add-ons to the product they have just purchased can be a great way of keeping a dialogue open and keeping the relationship going.
You also need to be quick off the mark if there’s a problem. Address any issues before your customers have a chance to take to social media to vent, and above all treat them with the respect and care they want and deserve. They are, after all, any company’s most valuable asset.
Making the checkout process an enjoyable experience instils customers with confidence that they will be well treated both during and after purchase. You can show you care at the checkout by making things as straightforward, simple and convenient as possible. Security is naturally a top priority, but so too is offering a wide range of payment methods so that people have more choice as to how they buy online. A less rigidly structured payment system which provides, for example, customer credit, deferred payment options or other alternative financing means less risk of cart abandonment and more chance that people will be tempted back by the flexibility.