Opinion: If eCommerce stores want more customers, why do they treat them so poorly?
Look, I know that’s a bold claim. But over the last 10 years of being immersed in eCommerce, I genuinely don’t think it’s an exaggeration.
This article was written by JH’s Digital Marketing Exec, Alli Metcalf. Opinions and experiences are entirely her own.
I might be only 28, but I’m a genuine veteran of online shopping. My first Amazon purchase was made in the winter of 2010 – and since then I’ve placed orders with 100s (maybe 1000s) of online stores. I’ve used marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Etsy and AliExpress; shopped at omnichannel and online-only retailers; bought from huge global brands alongside tiny independents run by one person. I’ve had such frequent deliveries I’ve been looked at with concern by my office colleagues, and pity by the postman. I don’t have a problem, honest.
My experience of eCommerce isn’t limited to the customer’s viewpoint, either. 4 years ago I built and launched my own niche eCommerce business, and have run it ever since. In my previous job, I was part of the small team who built a new store from scratch on Magento, to take a previously trade-only group of brands directly to their customers. And now I work for JH, surrounded by incredibly clever developers and designers who work on some of the most impressive eCommerce builds in the world.
And even with all that knowledge, I’m still regularly shocked by how poorly thought-out some brands’ eCommerce experiences are. I’m not talking the tiny independents here, either. I’m talking about the brands with teams – even agencies – tasked with building their stores and experiences.
I want to share some of my biggest bugbears as an eCommerce customer – and while I won’t be calling out the individual brands, I will be sharing specific issues and how they could have been solved.
Abysmal mobile experience
Most of us know mobile should be the benchmark these days – with 50% of all web traffic coming from mobile devices, and 79% of smartphone users reporting they used their mobile device to make a purchase in the last 30 days, not prioritising the mobile experience is a big mistake for your brand. Converting mobile traffic specifically could be a very lucrative exercise for your eCommerce store – and indeed it was for our clients Workwear Express, who saw huge growth thanks to deploying a new PWA (which is arguably the best option for brands seeking to improve mobile device performance).
Maybe I’m an outlier – upwards of 90% of my online purchases are made using my smartphone – but I’m a high-spend outlier who is reasonably easy to convert. If you’re using social media, email marketing and digital advertising to draw back returning customers and find new ones, it’s likely that much of your traffic comes from mobile devices. But what experience do they have when they arrive?
To illustrate this issue, I want to share with you the Lighthouse report from one of my favourite brands – although I won’t be exposing them here! And it pains me to share these abysmal numbers with you – while I love their products, I don’t at all love their online experience.
There’s a few things this brand could do, but let’s grab for the low-hanging fruit; Lighthouse tells us that this brand could save a huge 5.7 seconds on their homepage load time by simply resizing their images to the correct dimensions. This is a pretty basic issue, but one where a lot of merchants fall down, either because they don’t see the importance of it or they haven’t prioritised it as part of their team’s work on the website. Want to fix this? Every time you replace a hero image, upload a new product or swap out a banner, run the image through Google’s Squoosh first. It’s free, fast, and makes a big difference to web performance – that’s why resizing images was top of our list on our post about performance optimisation for merchants.
It’s fairly easy to run a Lighthouse report and make judgements around what sites should do – I’m no developer, and I’ve managed to do the above – but actually enacting those improvements and staying consistent is a bigger task. Merchants who want to consistently convert mobile traffic and give their customers a great experience on mobile devices should be continuously prioritising their performance, with ongoing projects and investment as part of their roadmap. A good eCommerce agency should be prioritising performance over the latest technological gimmicks, and making pro-active recommendations on improving speed and user experience.
No customer continuity
Customers shop in many different ways, and the ability for them to do that is one of the drivers that has helped eCommerce grow so quickly. As a shopper, sometimes I’ll browse and checkout in a short session, similar to an in-person shopping trip – but that’s not a particularly common occurrence. The alternative – browsing and shopping over several sessions, and checking out days, weeks or even months down the line – is so commonplace, not only do most retailers have Abandoned Cart strategies in place to re-engage those customers, but Google Chrome is set to soon launch their own system that saves customer baskets and reminds them about their shopping when they open a new tab.
The problem is – for many retailers, their current native systems just aren’t fit for purpose. I’ll regularly be distracted from my shopping by something else, and come back to the same tab later – sometimes a matter of minutes – to find the entire basket has been emptied. I’ll often try to pre-empt this by logging into my account, only to find the site still wipes my cart after a period of inactivity. There’s also the issue with shopping over multiple devices – if I add products to my cart on my laptop, I’d like them to be there when I visit from my phone, too – but on some sites, it doesn’t mirror the baskets, even when you’re logged in.
You might think this is only an issue with smaller retailers, but I promise you – that’s not the case. Every time I shop with a certain omnichannel specialist retailer – with over 100 high street locations and a huge online store – I end up re-adding products to my basket because it’s removed them while I’m shopping. I recently had to rebuild my basket 6 times within 24 hours – because the system kept emptying it and replacing everything with a single product I added to my basket 3 months prior. Do we think I’d have bothered doing all that if I didn’t have a voucher to spend with that retailer to cover the entire purchase? Probably not.
Just like you, your customers have neither the time nor the inclination to do the same actions multiple times. Even with privacy changes and the web going cookie-less – there’s no reason a customer logged into your site shouldn’t be able to return to their basket after an hour, a week or a month. Giving your customers the extra time to enjoy a leisurely shopping experience – whether they’re waiting for a product to come back into stock, shopping for new releases to hit that free shipping threshold, or simply need a little longer to decide – will help them to enjoy their experience with you and cut down on frustrating repetitive actions. Who wants their eCommerce brand to be associated with frustration?
Order tracking systems broken or a nightmare to access
Research shows that 97% of customers want to be able to track their orders at multiple stages throughout the shipping process. That’s not hard to imagine for me – I’m a busy lady, and I like to know when my stuff’s coming. Even over the last year, when I’ve been home more often than not, it’s useful to know; what if I’m in the shower, at the office that day, or (very occasionally) went on a trip?
When I shop with a new brand, accessing the tracking is even more key – my trust of the brand is still in its infancy, and package tracking is one of the only ways I can be reassured I haven’t just launched my hard-earned cash into the digital ether.
The problem arises when the tracking doesn’t work, or in some cases, is impossible to access. I’m pretty sure most brands think their tracking systems work just fine, but in my experience, it’s surprising which brands do have issues.
Recently I placed my first direct order with a huge shoe brand – a household name – and spent over £100. Since it’s a huge, global brand, I expected to be able to easily track my parcel – so imagine my surprise when, after being directed to login to the customer portal to track the order, the tracking just… wasn’t there. The parcel’s current status and journey touchpoints should have been listed, but the page wasn’t working properly. Fabulous!
Other brands have issues with their logistics. A brand I order regularly from has had consistent shipping problems – long delays in dispatch, tracking numbers that don’t work, and once I even received the order before being notified of it being dispatched. You could argue that’s exceeding expectations – but what if I’d gone away for a few days and someone had pinched it off my doorstep, where all the couriers like to leave packages in full view of any passers-by?
The solution to this is simple – a watertight system with proper integration into your customer comms. Many carriers offer their own tracking systems, but ensuring these are plugged correctly into your own systems is key. You probably already send dispatch notifications, but could you also send notices of the delivery day and successful delivery to your customers by email or SMS, to keep them updated automatically? It’s worth checking with your current technology partners to see if they have new features available you aren’t already using – many times this comes at no additional monthly cost, and just requires a little setup time.
No matter what shipping carrier you use, it’s better to err on the side of too much information than too little. Letting the customer know up front which carrier you use is more helpful than you might imagine – for example, I know my Yodel driver leaves packages on the doorstep, the DPD guy is a stickler for taking delivery photos, and the usual Royal Mail postie knows to leave packages on the back doorstep – but if he’s on holiday, the replacement guy will take it back to the delivery office 8 miles away. Putting that information in your customers’ hands will likely result in a reduction in enquiries to your customer service team, and probably more successful deliveries too.
Can your brand make improvements in these areas?
None of us are perfect, and if any of these areas rang alarm bells for you – you’re not alone. The good news is, when you select the right partners, many of these issues can be fixed in less time than you might think – we’re talking days and weeks here, not months.
If you’d like to discuss how you can offer a better experience to your customers, get in touch with my colleagues via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44(0)115 7940060.