The ecommerce market is growing rapidly, with worldwide sales reaching $4.28 trillion in 2021. By 2023, the ecommerce market is expected to reach $5.90 trillion. There are enormous opportunities for retailers but fierce competition. How do you stand out from the crowd? These days, it’s all about the customer experience.
Customers don’t just expect a frictionless shopping experience anymore — they demand it.
They want to purchase what they want, when they want it. To meet their demands, it’s vital that ecommerce businesses pay attention to creating the best customer experience possible. At the same time, businesses need to set up their back-end processes to easily meet your customers’ expectations. In this article, we take a closer look at six ways retailers can improve the customer experience to stand out in a crowded market.
How to improve the ecommerce customer experience
Customers now drive commerce, and if you focus on building a positive experience at each and every step of the customer journey, all your other efforts will lead to gaining loyal customers who buy products from you.
1. Being in multiple channels simultaneously (including physical retail)
Customers expect to be able to shop on their preferred sales channel — whether that’s a social platform, your website, or in-store. This approach is dubbed Total Commerce and involves being present where your customers are, on their terms. This means being present across multiple sales channels, at the same time. These channels include:
- Direct to customer (DTC)
- Social commerce
- Business to business (B2B)
- Physical retail
Brands are taking notice, with 96% of ecommerce retailers saying the pandemic accelerated their adoption of new sales channels, according to Linnworks research on The Great Ecommerce Acceleration. Marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy are the first point of call for many customers — with a huge 90% of customers starting their product searches on these platforms, according to Linnworks research.
If you’re not selling your products here, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Marketplaces allow customers to review a wide range of products all in one place, which can offer a far more streamlined experience than navigating to the individual websites of specific brands.
DTC sales are also vital, as they allow you to control the customer journey from the very start. Often, a customer will come to your website directly after they discover you on a marketplace. If you can grab their attention by offering a superior experience, they’ll likely remain a direct customer and go on to make repeat purchases. You can also collect first-party data like website behavior and email addresses to help you build up a detailed profile of your customers.
More customers than ever before are shopping through social platforms, with 82% enjoying the convenience that this channel offers, according to Linnworks research. That's because 71% of customers prefer to carry out their purchase on the social channel of their choice rather than being redirected to a brand’s website. In addition to offering your products through social media, it’s important to consider allowing checkout options here too.
By 2023, B2B ecommerce sales in the US are forecast to account for 17% of all B2B sales. That means it makes sense to include this channel in your sales strategy. B2B sales involve a customer experience too. Thanks to global supply chain issues, you may find you can offer a more reliable option for local markets.
As we’ll cover a little later, physical retail might have seemed on the way out for a while, but it’s back and just as important as ever.
2. Frictionless checkout
Customers value convenience above all else, with recent research from Linnworks showing this to be the key priority for 76% when selecting a retailer. If you don’t offer a seamless experience that includes a frictionless checkout experience — then research shows that 74% of customers will simply go elsewhere.
This frictionless checkout will look different to each customer, so you need to offer a range of options to cover your bases. This needs to include a guest checkout option, for those customers who simply want to buy a product as quickly as possible. They don’t want to sign up for an account or complete lengthy registration forms. In this instance, the fewer actions needed for a customer to finish checkout, the better.
Other customers will want their information saved for future purchases, saving them time and making it easier to reorder products next time. Others will want to browse items on their smartphone and add them to their basket before moving to their computer to complete the purchase.
Offering a range of shipping options is important — and customers expect to be offered a choice. While 61% of customers want free delivery (even if that means longer delivery times), others want to be able to choose next-day delivery or to be able to pick up their order in-store.
The checkout experience doesn’t end when a customer clicks the “buy now” button either. It needs to extend across the post-checkout experience to include things like return shipping options as well. It’s vital to be transparent when it comes to the estimated cost of shipping and delivery times—if this information is hard to find, 72% of customers will walk away from making a purchase, according to Linnworks research.
3. BNPL (Buy Now Pay Later) options
It’s estimated that buy now pay later (BNPL) options can not only increase conversion rates from 20% to 30%, but they can also increase the average ticket size up to 50%. Customers appreciate the convenience and flexibility of being able to manage their budgets while also receiving their item immediately. This option is frequently seen as a better option than credit cards, especially by the younger generation.
Customers who choose the BNPL flexible payment option are less likely to return an item, potentially because they can spread the cost over a longer period, so are better able to budget for it. With 66% of millennials and 54% of Gen Xers expecting this option to be offered as standard, this is a great way to improve the customer experience by offering a flexible payment option which is becoming increasingly popular. By 2024, this payment option is expected to account for 50% of global ecommerce payments.
This option isn’t just relevant for big-ticket items either, but it’s popular across a whole range of industries. From clothing to cosmetics, furniture to food, if you’re running an ecommerce business, BNPL is now expected by most customers as a given.
4. BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store)
When shopping online, 43% of customers expect to be offered an option to collect in-store, Linnworks research shows. For many customers, buy online pick-up in-store (BOPIS) offers the perfect compromise between the convenience of shopping online and the pleasure gained when visiting a physical store. BOPIS also removes the uncertainty around tracking a shipment and waiting for delivery, because a customer can simply visit the store when they see their item is ready to collect.
BOPIS was identified by Microsoft as a key trend for the 2021 holiday shopping season, with the popularity of this option expected to continue into 2022 and beyond. The industries with the largest growth for BOPIS were groceries, mass retail, pet supplies, home and garden, beauty, and restaurants.
BOPIS orders tend to lead to more sales because customers then add more items to their order when they visit the brick and mortar store. The National Retail Federation found that 70% of customers said that BOPIS improved their experience. Brick and mortar shops can offer a variety of BOPIS formats, including:
- Pick up at cash register
- Curbside collection
- Trunk delivery
- Locker pickup with code
Picking up an order at the cash register is currently the most popular option, used by 78% of customers. Even more, customers want to try this method of collecting their order, so it’s definitely something you should add to your customer experience. It’s even becoming an option for purely online businesses, as providers like Via.Delivery partner with physical stores to offer pickup locations for brands without a brick and mortar shop.
5. Physical and digital retail
While it’s true that the COVID pandemic created a huge shift towards digital retail, in-store shopping is just as important. While some customers love the convenience of online shopping, others enjoy the experience of a brick-and-mortar shop. These days, both channels should be combined — to create something called phygital retail.
Offering a blend of both physical and digital retail gives your customers the best of both worlds and allows you to deliver a stronger customer experience as a result. While digital retail offers huge advantages when it comes to researching products and comparing prices, it doesn’t offer the same experience as visiting a physical store where customers can see and touch the products they’re interested in. Sometimes, this step is necessary in order to close a sale.
Phygital retail strategies include a range of options like:
- Click and collect: In the US, this option accounted for 9.1% of all ecommerce retail sales in 2019, and is expected to grow even more over the next few years. Customers enjoy the convenience and immediacy of this buying option, and from a retailer’s point of view it can save on shipping costs and make the most of in-store inventory.
- Buy in-store, deliver at home: The reverse of click and collect, some customers want to see and try an item in-store before having it delivered to their home. This can often be the preferred choice for large items, or when their chosen color isn’t available in-store but can be reserved by store staff for home delivery.
- Popup stores: For purely digital brands, a pop-up store can be a great way to test the reaction of their customers before committing to a permanent brick-and-mortar store. Popups can be used to increase awareness and experiment with locations without excessive investment.
- Checkout free shops: Again, the focus here is around improving the customer experience by minimizing friction around checkout. Grocery stores already use self-scanning technology to allow customers to select items and avoid placing them through the checkout manually.
- Visualization technology: With augmented reality and virtual reality growing in capability, they effectively bring products to life and enhance the customer experience. 61% of customers prefer retailers that offer AR, which can be used for anything — from virtually trying on clothes to visualizing a new kitchen design.
As your business grows, automation becomes a key way for you to grow your business while also maintaining a positive customer experience. This is even more important if you’re selling across multiple channels. Omnichannel operations are excellent for driving business growth, but only if you’ve set up the correct back-end processes to help support your sales.
If warehouse staff are trying to manually track inventory from multiple sales channels, the chances of mistakes, lost inventory, or lack of stock is only going to increase. That’s where automated inventory management comes in. This technology helps you meet your customer’s expectations by giving you a broad overview of all your inventory.
Efficient inventory management systems offer a range of benefits and features designed to streamline your business, including:
- Real-time order overview
- Supply and demand predictions
- Automated workflows and listings
- Targeted copy for specific audiences
- Group listings
These all help you to create a seamless customer experience by offering an individual and efficient journey.
Stay ahead of the curve and create the best customer experience
In a saturated ecommerce market, creating a seamless customer experience is one of the best ways to maintain customer loyalty. Taking the time to combine efficient back-end processes like automated inventory management with customer-facing strategies including selling across multiple channels and offering a range of checkout options, will help you make the most of the growth opportunities to be found in this market.
As ecommerce accelerates into a new era of Total Commerce and an effortless economy, retailers must be ready to adapt — or get left behind. We hope you’ve found the six strategies we’ve covered above helpful. When combined, they can help you to create a frictionless shopping experience that provides convenience and value while building brand loyalty.