May 14, 20196 min read

Uncertainty Will Make Shoppers Disappear.

Anton Hellkvist headshot

by Anton Hellkvist

Confidence drives sales – both short-term and long-term – and it begins as soon as a shopper arrives at your website. This is how merchants keep customers by removing uncertainty at every step.

You’re probably already familiar with the concept of “risk removal” as a strategy to convert better, for example by letting consumers know they can get all their money back if they are not happy with their purchase, even offering free return postage. But simply removing risks isn’t enough, as more and more merchants are realising.

In order to create the type of customer experience that not only leads to more sales up front, but to retention and repeat purchases as well, you also need to remove uncertainty.

You might not be one of them, but people in general have a very hard time dealing with uncertainty. In fact, given the option to either get an unpleasant electric shock now, or face the uncertainty of maybe getting a shock in a few minutes, most people will choose the option of knowing for sure. That’s a simplified conclusion of a significant study about how humans deal with uncertainty. In other words, facing uncertainty is more stressful than knowing something bad is definitely going to happen, as The Guardian concludes in an article about the topic.

I, personally, can certainly relate to this. When my business flight is delayed, for example, I would rather know it’s delayed by one hour than face the ambiguous message “flight delayed”.

Recently I bought a cookbook from one of my favourite restaurants and was looking forward to creating miracle meals, but the experience turned into a nightmare because of the uncertainty that came along with the purchase.

Honestly, the cookbook made me question myself and my intelligence in the kitchen. Besides expecting me to have pieces of laboratory equipment in my kitchen for preparing certain meals, it also told me to “fry a little bit”, “add some curry powder”, “take it out of the oven when the colour is right”. What kind of instructions are those? Would it be too much to show me a picture of what the “right” colour is?

The result of all this? Frustration and irritation. Not exactly the kind of emotions that cause repeat purchases.

How merchants remove uncertainty

Luckily, more and more e-commerce businesses are waking up to the reality of how stressful uncertainty is for consumers. Smart merchants do everything they can to diminish uncertainty throughout the buying experience.

For example, when I’ve shopped for shoes online before, I’ve ordered four pairs even though I knew I would only keep one of them, just because I’m not sure which ones will fit. Returning the three unwanted pairs causes extra trouble for me, as well as for the merchant. Now new services like Truefit remove a lot of that uncertainty. Their technology, integrated into stores like Asos, uses previous consumer feedback to recommend the right size, thus reducing uncertainty.

The same goes for delivery. Traditional delivery is like calling for a cab on Saturday night where they tell you “We’ll send the next available driver”. You stand there waiting, not sure if they’ll arrive in ten minutes or 45. Compare this to Uber, where you get real-time updates on when the driver will show up; that’s what consumers want from modern delivery services. In Sweden, Budbee is a wonderful example of a delivery service that removes all uncertainty, using AI technology for time precision.

Here at Klarna, our developers are putting lots of effort into removing any feeling of uncertainty in the customer experience. For example, consumers get convenient updates about current orders, payments and shipping (if a merchant chooses to integrate our new shipping service), as well as being able to live-chat if needed, and view records of all previous purchases using Klarna. For easier finance planning, payments can be delayed with the click of a button.

Things like that give customers confidence.

Why certainty matters for your business

Certainty drives sales both short-term and long-term, and it begins as soon as a shopper arrives at your website. While most shoppers won’t consciously ask if they can pay later (or whichever other payment method they prefer) as soon as they land on your website, they appreciate the reassurance of seeing the message “Try before you buy. Pay later with Klarna”. Messages like that instantly create a bit more clarity about shopping in your store. Another thing that removes doubt for consumers is immediately being able to see that a purchase can be delivered within 24 hours, within 2-3 days, or whatever, and that their preferred pickup/home delivery option is available. I still see many online stores that don’t let consumers know their options until checkout, and that hurts sales, as well as the overall shopping and brand experience.

It’s true that most consumers will pick whatever option is available – even if their favourite payment or shipment method isn’t listed – if they want the product badly enough. But what many merchants don’t realise is that they risk losing that customer to the competition next time. Consumer data tells us all that consumers prefer coming back to merchants where they feel certain about one thing:

That they will have a smoooth purchase process – all the way to getting the package in their hands and using the products.

Removing uncertainty at every step is ultimately about doing everything you can to have your customers choose you again and again.

Read more from Anton:

Don’t Distract Your Customers with Irrelevant Payment Options

What 300 km on a bike taught me about e-commerce

Dear entrepreneur, is your screen hurting your sales?