In the fiercely competitive world of eCommerce, the customer experience is a key differentiator. Understanding how shoppers interact — or wish they could interact — with merchant brands is essential in order to prioritize projects with the best potential to impact sales and loyalty.
There’s no doubt that the customer experience is now at the forefront of merchants’ priorities. The impressions shoppers gather as they navigate a merchant’s website or interact with store features can materialize as sales and repeat business, or evaporate into a haze of social media complaints. And competing on factors such as price and selection can be a no-win proposition for merchants under pressure from Amazon and other mega-outlets.
It’s no surprise, then, that 89 percent of companies said they expect to compete mostly on customer experience this year — a 147 percent increase from 2010, when just 36 percent of businesses gave customer experience such primacy, technology researcher Gartner found. And when asked what their top areas of investment for the coming year were, merchants told Forrester that marketing tied mobile initiatives at the top of the list, signaling an urgent need to understand and communicate more effectively with customers.
This focus has prompted development of an array of tools and technologies that attempt to capture how shoppers interact with merchant brands and document the myriad paths to purchase that now exist. Given the potential to achieve crucial customer experience gains, merchants should adopt one or more of the following methodologies:
1. Web and mobile app analytics
While no single analytics package can capture completely the fluid movements of shoppers from screens to stores (and even back again), for most merchants there’s still plenty of potential to do more and better data analysis. Segmenting analytics by device and screen size is a first step; using deep-dive reports such as fallout trajectories that track how shoppers backtrack away from desired actions is another, and can expose where merchants need to step up access to customer service options and enhanced product information. And, of course, marrying website data with analytics from email campaigns and social media can further elucidate how shoppers move among merchant touch points toward purchase — or not.
2. Front-line staff
In the quest to collect data about customers, merchants should be sure to tap their best existing resource: their own staff. By consulting with front-line service representatives, from the call center to social media specialists to store associates, merchants can asses how the organization’s messaging translates in action, what products and promotions are resonating — and what glitches are most frequently reported.
3. eCommerce site surveys
It is becoming commonplace for pop-up windows to prompt shoppers to provide feedback at the end of their eCommerce site visit. While the participants in these surveys are self-selecting, they can provide quantifiable collective feedback about the quality of the website experience when it’s still fresh in shoppers’ minds. Such surveys should be in a mobile-friendly format so that merchants can collect information from shoppers regardless of their screen size.
4. Online focus groups
Cultivating a group of frequent shoppers and buyers who can be polled or invited to test new features is easier than ever thanks to online tools that enable merchants to message members quickly and effectively with questions and incentives for participating. With such input, merchants can tailor site experiences and even product assortment to better meet shoppers’ needs.
The flash site Steals.com has an invitation-only Facebook group where site founder Jana Francis polls members and asks for input on upcoming featured products. The 1,000-plus members of the group are empowered to post their own suggestions for products and make requests for new site features. Quick and honest responses from staff let members know that their concerns are taken seriously, and give credibility to the group overall (and, by extension, to the brand). Exclusive offers further incentivize group members to participate.
5. Customer journey mapping
Tying together disparate data from different touch points is a challenge for most merchants, less than a third of whom report having strong or even average capabilities when it comes to uniting data from different sources into a single customer profile, according to the research firm Econsultancy. To surmount the challenge, merchants are increasingly turning to customer journey maps, which document step-by-step how shoppers interact with brand offerings across touch points. While the exercise of analyzing data and identifying key customer pathways can be a long and expensive project in its own right, the resulting insights can reveal gaps in merchant offerings and point to new ways to strengthen connections between touch points.
What tools do you use to understand the customer experience?