Refining the Online Channel Offline

I can’t believe it, but Christmas is coming… fast. Like a lot you, I’ll be doing most of my shopping online. Spending a couple of evenings online is far more preferable than battling a busy shopping area. So online U.K. retailers can count on me making a modest contribution to the estimated £7 billion in online sales in the run up to Christmas this year.

E-tailers all over the world are now refining their campaigns, optimizing their storefronts, and adjusting their merchandizing strategies to maximize their returns during the peak period. But the U.K.’s Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) released a report earlier this month reminding us e-commerce is still a relatively immature channel for most retailers and that some aspects of their operations still require significant refinement. IMRG reported that e-tailers must improve their delivery services or face a backlash from consumers. It asserted that too many basic mistakes are being made, such as putting small items in large packages that don’t fit through mail slots.

We must consider the whole end-to-end process when we think about optimizing the customer experience. We must look at the whole value chain rather than just what happens on the Web site.

A huge amount of time and effort goes into optimizing the visitor’s site experience and that’s great. Quite often, there’s still a lot to be put right on the site once decent measurement systems have been put in place. But all that effort will come to little if a positive site experience is destroyed by a poor post-sales experience.

Sites often attempt to survey me about who I am and whether I was satisfied with my experience. I applaud the attempt to understand more about me and how I feel about the site (whether they do anything with the data…). However, I struggle to remember if anyone has ever contacted me after I bought something online to find out what I thought about the experience and what I would do in the future as a result. Just because someone is satisfied with the Web site experience doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to do business with you again. Customer databases are littered with the records of people who have only transacted once.

If you don’t have a program that allows visitors to give an overall opinion of your performance, you’re missing a vital component in your measurement strategy. You must understand the overall customer experience, online and off-. For example:

  • Were there any problems with the payment processes?

  • How were the delivery times and prices?
  • Did the order tracking capability work well?
  • Did the delivery arrive on time?
  • Was customer services, My Account, or something similar used? Was that a good experience?

I saw a good example of such a program at Emetrics in Washington, D.C. StubHub presented on what it’s doing to track the overall customer experience. In addition to phone surveys, site pop-up surveys, and exit surveys, it also ran post-event surveys two weeks after a site transaction had occurred to find out if everything went smoothly for both the buyer and the seller and if not, why not.

As conversion optimization processes become increasingly tuned, retention battles might be won or lost in other aspects of the customer experience. Find out what effect the experience had on the likelihood of them doing business with you again. Propensity scores such as “likelihood to return” and “likelihood to recommend” are strong indicators of satisfaction and customer lifetime value.

When it comes to evaluating performance in January, don’t just focus on sales, orders, conversion rates, and the like. Also consider whether the experience — all of it– worked for the customer. Remember, a customer is for life not just for Christmas!

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