[Guest post written by Lijo Isac]
Warren Buffet, the greatest investor who ever lived, succinctly describes his investing strategy as ‘be long term greedy, not short term greedy’ in his autobiography. Even though his advice would have been related to investing in assets with a long term view the same applies to eCommerce in India which is expected to grow between $ 125 billion and $ 260 billion by 2024-25. When you are long term greedy you will try to treat the customers in the best possible way at each touch point so that you build a long term relationship with any customer who shops with you and it creates a virtual cycle where people comes back to shop with you again and again.
Nobody has championed this thought better than Jeff Bezos the founder and CEO of Amazon.com who detailed out on a paper napkin the value of superior customer experience which will help in increasing traffic, attracting more sellers and increasing the selection available to the customers helping to achieve lower cost structure and prices finally benefiting the entire ecosystem in E-Commerce.
If you look at this stage of growth of E-Commerce in India , the competition is on price in any commodity category. The good thing about lowest price is that there will always be takers for lowest price, especially with price conscious value seeking customers in India. The bad thing about lowest price is that in the long term, it’s a very difficult to build any business on low margins and below par customer experience.
That is why it is necessary that you sell not the product, but the complete experience to the customer who shops online.
Unfortunately ecommerce is one of the most competitive industries in the online space, so a good understanding of the customer experience in ecommerce is vital for improving the customer journey in order to reduce marketing costs and improve revenue for this you need to view each sale as the foundation stone for a long term relationship and not a one night stand. Most E-Commerce companies are structured in such a way that no single department is responsible for overall customer experience . Each department has their own goals. Marketing wants more traffic, Sourcing team wants more revenue, Product Management wants the “wow moments” within the product, Engineering wants to build stable scalable systems for long term, merchandising wants more product discovery and visual options, Delivery teams want systems that will help to deliver fast with real time tracking and delivering and so on. When the objectives of various departments compete with each other to get resources, it is natural that priorities collide there are breakages in customer experience funnel creating long term revenue losses and the whole organisation may miss the chance to learn from customer behavior — to create a virtuous cycle of repeated customer purchases and improved revenue performance in long term.
A good starting point is to look at the key areas of the customer experience journey so you can plan your resources accordingly and the customer experience map below has been adapted for E-Commerce and inspired by the customer experience map model created by Chris Risdon of Adaptive Path.
Planning & Product Discovery Stage
Customers will start considering your site only if it comes through a strong recommendation or if there is a compelling offer driven through a marketing channel and the focus in this stage, should be to drive customers to your site and engage with them. Site structure and content should be optimised to improve traffic from organic search but, before investing heavily, consider whether more traffic is really what you need.
Transactional ecommerce sites should ideally convert at least 2 percent+ of web traffic that should increase over time. If you’re not achieving this you may be wasting money on paid media (search and display) and should instead think about optimising site content and user experience rather than attracting more traffic. The conversion rates will vary from category to category and product to product based on seasonality and offers. Conversion rate is usually high for low involvement products like pendrives and books while it is very low for high involvement products like smart phones and DSLR cameras. Traffic from Google may have a very different conversion rate than traffic from a price comparison website like mysmartprice.com or a forum like desidime.com and you need to track each of these sources differently over time to check how well these are performing.
Detailed information points in product description, reviews and recommendations etc are almost hygiene now and going forward to help users you need to harvesting your efforts in creating a community through gamification, online reviews, ratings and recommendations play. This will play an increasingly important role in the decision-making process at this stage and and can help build trust for the site. But how will you decide whether to showcase a negative review or not which again boils down to the fact on whether you are long term greedy or short term greedy. Customers now expect you to engage with them on their terms so, rather than social/email-spamming fans when running a Facebook promotion campaign, make use of available customer information from their social profiles to personalise offers and improve the experience on the site. In fact, personalisation can have a major impact on conversions throughout the user journey. Collating user information is a priceless tool for marketers, as this information can then be used to increase sales through personalised targeting.
Implicit data such as user location, age and location can be used to tailor products based on demographics, whilst explicit personalisation, based on past purchases and searches for example, can be employed once you’ve been able to capture who they are. A personalised customer experience, where the site adapts to the visitor, – can give them confidence that you can deliver what they are looking for. If this stage is planned well any site can have a customer’s trust (and wallet) for life. One of the common mistakes that organisations make in this stage is to focus too much and do major monthly iterations on visual UI but as Steve Jobs once said Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. In this stage customers will engage with you if it gives them pleasure and takes away the pain and any element that gives customer the pleasure of discovery is what you need to focus on to take the customer to the next stage.
This stage of customer experience starts once the customer has clicked the Buy button of any product, typically the customer has shown the purchase intent and is ready to share a part of the wallet . This stage provides the lot of opportunities for for revenue maximisation .At HomeShop18 this is a stage that we concentrate a lot and changes in the form design and interaction has generated additional monthly revenues in eight digits. The simple way to optimise this stage is by figuring out modifications that can help in taking more customers to the next stage in the ordering process . The famous case study of USD 300 million button was in this stage of customer experience. Abandonment Tracking as well as Upsell and Cross sell if done intelligently can also help in adding more revenue at this stage.One of the best experiences in this stage has to be amazon.com and may be vistaprint.com is a great example for for upselling. Here are some fundamental guidelines for checkout flow design if you are interested in optimising this stage.
Product Shipping and Delivery
This is the most difficult stage to manage the experience , primarily because the customer has already shared a part of wallet with you and any experience bloopers in this stage may destroy the relationship. Timely Alerts, Fastest possible delivery time and delivering the exact goods ordered for are hygiene factors that can help in generating the trust in customers and one of the most difficult aspects of this stage is that the moment of truth when the product is delivered to the customer is typically owned by a third party like a courier service which makes it even difficult to manage.
Returns & Refunds
This is final stage which is a grey area that customers are exploiting by returning the products after usage within 30 days and none of the companies currently in India has been adventurous enough to offer a policy like Zappos.
India is still waking up to the potential of E-Commerce and the potential in disrupting offline business is huge. All online businesses are not even 1% of the offline businesses and still a large percentage of customers research online and buy offline. This will change with time and the leaders will emerge who follows the same strategy as Warren buffet- ‘be long term greedy, not short term greedy’.