7 tips for a stellar eCommerce customer experience

The global pandemic has altered shopping patterns around the world. As stores have closed or changed their operations (often migrating from offline to online), eCommerce has continued to grow and many stores are finding themselves serving a brand new audience.

The result has been a major influx of new customers to stores. According to a study by Kenshoo, 13.1 percent of the orders placed at eCommerce stores in April 2020 were made by first-time customers to that store. (One year ago, only 4.1 percent of orders were placed by new customers.)

So, as an eCommerce brand, how can you turn new customers into repeat buyers? One of the absolute best ways is: providing them with a stellar shopping experience.

Research from Episerver’s Reimagining Commerce 2020 report shows that customers have high expectations of eCommerce brands. But multiple studies (from Econsultancy, Cap Gemini, and Bain & Company, among others) show there’s a big gap between customer expectations and reality.

How can you bridge that gap and deliver a fantastic experience that keeps customers happy, satisfied, and coming back? Here are seven key areas to focus on to enhance the customer experience at your eCommerce store.

1. Free shipping still matters

Expensive shipping is a big customer turn-off.
Via: Episerver.

Free shipping matters to online consumers, says every eCommerce research study ever. The Episerver research, naturally, agrees. The study found that expensive shipping is a major turnoff to 76 percent of consumers. And it’s well known that high shipping costs are a top cause of cart abandonment.

Episerver believes that the increased desire for free shipping is part of the “Amazon effect,” where Amazon gradually sets customer expectations. (It’s no surprise that customers around the globe also value shipment tracking and free returns, two other pillars of Amazon’s competitive success.) 

What to do next

You don’t want shipping to mean the difference between making a sale or losing a sale. If you can afford to offer free shipping, do so. If you can find a way to lower the cost of shipping, do so. Otherwise, you can take a page out of the Amazon playbook: offer free shipping at a certain spending threshold, or offer a paid membership program that has free shipping as a perk. 

You can also figure out other ways to get creative with free shipping. Rue La La uses a clever approach: if you place an order, you get free shipping on all subsequent orders for 30 days. That’s a really smart way to use free shipping as more than just a customer experience perk—it’s a tool to create a sense of urgency that motivates customers to buy more.

Rue La La's clever free shipping deal.

2. Mobile or desktop? How about both

As an eCommerce retailer, you have to be everywhere. And a big part of “everywhere” is on your customers’ smartphones. According to Episerver, the majority of online shoppers rely on their smartphones, and nearly half spend more time on their phones now than they did a year ago. Plus, around half of shoppers between 18 to 53 start their shopping experience on their smartphones. 

Where online purchases originate.
Via: Episerver.

But… just because a customer starts shopping on their phone, it doesn’t mean they’ll make the purchase on their phone. In fact, mobile conversion rates remain low—and the likelihood is that they’ll complete their purchase on another device.

What to do next

A mobile-optimized website has to be your starting point, as glitchy mobile sites drive customers away. You can improve the mobile shopping experience by: 

  • Ensuring navigation menus and links are easy to tap
  • Improving the mobile search experience
  • Personalizing the shopping experience based on what you already know about your consumer, such as past purchases

But to really deliver the ideal customer experience, you have to have a multi-platform focus. Make sure your shopping experience is consistent across platforms, and look for ways to make the mobile-to-desktop transition smooth.

For example, at Jilt, we’ve been seeing this “browse on mobile, then buy on desktop” phenomenon for a while. So we built a cart regeneration feature for brands using our abandoned cart emails. If a customer abandons a cart on one device but then clicks through the abandoned cart email on another device, the cart will regenerate there.

3. Market to the couch surfers

Even before stay-at-home orders spread around the globe, consumers’ shopping behavior had changed. Believe it or not, according to Episerver, more than 80 percent of shoppers around the world start their eCommerce journeys from the comfort of their couch.

So many purchases begin on the couch.
Via: Episerver.

It’s a fascinating shift in customer behavior, but it does present a problem. Couch shoppers are likely multitasking (like watching TV, or pretending to talk with their families). They might find a product they like but not finish the purchase—and then, they might forget about it altogether.  So how do you encourage them to get online and take action? 

What to do next

For couch shoppers, a mobile optimized experience is essential. You may even want to consider a mobile shopping app as another channel to connect with your customers.

Consider using retargeting ads to increase the “stickiness” of their shopping experience. With retargeting ads, personalized ads will show up for them on other sites featuring the products they were interested in.

Oh… and once in a while, you might even want to target some advertising directly to your couch surfing customers. Here’s an email from Torrid that references couch shopping in the subject line—then offers comfortable clothes to wear when you’re on the couch.

Torrid targets couch shoppers.

4. Identify and work with social media influencers

For a growing number of customers, especially younger ones, a good shopping experience is intertwined with social media.

First off, social media shopping is a growing trend. Whether consumers shop on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or elsewhere, 31 percent of consumers make purchases from social media ads. 

In addition, influencer promotions are a big factor for Gen Z and millennial consumers. About half of Gen Z and millennials shoppers have made a purchase because of an influencer’s endorsement. So if your core audience is in this market, consider giving them what they want—which is a partnership with their favorite influencers.

How much people pay attention to influencers.
Via: Episerver.

What to do next

To reach younger customers, you’ll need to find the people who influence them. You can look at audience stats on platforms like Instagram, or use a tool like Klear to figure out who the top influencers are for your target market. Then find those who truly resonate with your brand and customers and partner with them.

That last point is important, because one thing that’s anathema to those who follow influencers is fakery. People who are inauthentic won’t be much use in promoting your brand, so take the time to find the right people on the right platforms to reach the right consumers. 

5. Be relevant, but not creepy

If you want to create a stellar customer experience, relevance still matters. The only trouble is that the research shows there’s a fine line between relevance and invasiveness.

62 percent of people want their online shopping experiences to be personalized. But at the same time, most customers say that it’s of growing (or, at least steady) importance for brands to respect their privacy.

Users want brands to respect their privacy.
Via: Episerver.

So… what’s a poor eCommerce retailer to do?

What to do next

One thing you don’t want to do is bombard potential customers with your ads at every turn. But luckily, there are plenty of ways that you can keep your marketing relevant without drifting too far into “creepy” territory. These include:

  • Take account of context, so that people get the right promotions at the right time
  • Use segmentation in email marketing so people get relevant promotions
  • Be transparent about what information you’re collecting from your customers, and what you’re using it for

6. Respond quickly

People expect fast customer service. Research from Hotjar supports this, showing that long wait times are the number one customer service frustration. 

Customer frustrations with brands.
Via: Hotjar.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of slow eCommerce customer service yourself, you know that it’s an annoyance that can send you to another site. It’s the same for your customers. While you’ve got some leeway on response times for support emails, with a phone call or live chat helpline, you’ve got two minutes or less before the majority of customers will lose interest

How long people will wait for customer service responses on different contact methods.
Via: Aircall.

What to do next

One way to be super responsive is to take advantage of the power of automation. Conversational commerce is a growing eCommerce trend, and you can use some of the technology to give your customers a better customer service experience.

For example, you can integrate a chatbot into your messaging tool to provide an instant response to anyone who has a question. Those responses can hit on some of the most common pre-sales issues—while more complex issues can then be pushed to you or a team member.  After all, your chatbot is just a first line of defense.  Customers want to be able to reach actual people too, so know when it’s time to step in with some human-to-human customer service.

7. Don’t neglect the fundamentals

While all of the tips on this list will help enhance your customer experience, it’s worth taking a step back every so often to make sure all of your fundamentals are still solid. After all, as your eCommerce business grows and changes, the basics always remain important.

What to do next

Some of these basics include:

  • Know your customers. Keep your customer personas up to date so you are always on point with the right messaging, design, and products to best serve the people coming to your store. 
  • Message consistently, so your customers don’t forget about you. Send your emails and messages at the right intervals so that you’re continuing to nurture those customer relationships. Don’t disappear from email or social media for months or years at a time.
  • Test out your site from a customer’s perspective. Make sure it works across platforms and the experience is better (or, at least, not worse) than what your competitors offer.
  • Keep up on eCommerce SEO trends and changes—Google’s algorithm is always evolving—so people who are searching for products and product information can find your site.

Key takeaways

It’s crucial to create a good customer experience, both to entice first-time purchases and to keep customers coming back. Customers have high expectations—but it is possible to meet and exceed those expectations with the right approach.

To raise your customer experience game a few notches, here are some of the most important things you can do.

  • Offer free shipping. Thanks to Amazon, free shipping is now the expectation. If it’s infeasible to offer free shipping on all orders, at least consider giving customers free shipping at a certain spending threshold or with a paid membership. 
  • Operate cross-device. Customers are searching and shopping on mobile, but often completing purchases on other devices. Make sure your eCommerce site delivers a high-quality experience on every device and platform.
  • Use retargeting for the couch surfers. With a huge number of people shopping from the couch, you’ll need to make sure they don’t forget about you when they’re off the couch and ready to buy.
  • Influence your younger customers. Authentic influencer marketing is an important part of the shopping experience for young customers, so plan accordingly.
  • Be relevant without getting too invasive. Everyone loves relevant marketing, but many hate the “creepy” factor. Use segmentation and targeting to get the right messages to the right people at the right time.
  • Be responsive with your customer support. Your customers hate to wait. Chatbots and similar technology can help you by handling many inbound requests.
  • Keep your fundamentals strong. Make sure you’re regularly updating your customer personas, messaging, website, and SEO to deliver the best possible experience.
Sharon Hurley Hall
Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. She's written for publications as varied as IBM, OptinMonster, CrazyEgg, Search Engine People, and Unbounce. In her previous life Sharon was also a journalist and university lecturer (teaching journalism, of course!) You can learn more about Sharon at sharonhh.com.

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