During most of 2018, a certain phrase related to the retail industry was mentioned, repeated, analyzed, and dissected by numerous market analysts.
The "death of retail" became a popular catchphrase along with its more ominous version, the "retail apocalypse."
Two things were often brought up in relation to this discussion:
- Brick-and-mortar store closures are now part of a trend that reflects challenges faced by this sector. While some of these closures have been strategic, the majority were the result of bankruptcy protection filings.
- Amazon's huge expansion of e-commerce operations has caused the company to explore brick-and-mortar operations, to wit: the August 2018 acquisition of the Whole Foods supermarket chain.
Sears, Kmart, Walgreens, and Toys R Us are just some of the big names closing up hundreds of stores in the United States, and what they have in common is their slow embrace of e-commerce. According to statistics published by market research and accountancy firm KPMG, shoppers have voted with their smartphones and wallets with regard to e-commerce, and they love the idea of online stores being open anytime.
Shoppers like convenience, and this is something they have found with e-commerce.
Remember how a few years ago the buzzword "customer journey" emerged as a mandatory business process for e-commerce operations? In 2019, customer experience will be an even more important retail factor to focus on.
It is far too easy for shoppers to click or swipe away from an online store if their experience is less than desirable. After all, there are thousands of other shops they can navigate to, and they are right at their fingertips.
Defining Online Retail Customer Experience
Customer experience is a very subtle e-commerce factor that many shoppers would be at odds to accurately describe. We all know that surprisingly customer service is a legacy from the brick-and-mortar world that cannot be ignored, and it is something that shoppers can easily put their fingers on when talking positively about e-commerce, but the same cannot be said about customer experience.
- For website designers and developers, customer experience is all about user experience, commonly shortened to UX, a factor that is tightly related to the user interface and how the shopping process flows from initial visit to checkout.
- For digital marketing professionals, customer experience is closer to the customer journey and should be thoroughly underscored by branding.
- For e-commerce business owners, customer experience should involve memorable online shopping sessions that can result in brand loyalty and repeat visits.
Improving E-commerce Customer Experiences
In general, e-commerce shoppers have been responding very positively to the implementation of smart technology, which is a collection of logical applications aimed to enhance life experiences. Here are two examples of smart technology specific to the e-commerce customer experience:
- Amazon Dash buttons, despite recently being ruled illegal in Germany, are a very smart way to inject convenience into e-commerce ordering, and they also serve as promotional products that visibly place brand logos inside homes where they should be seen.
- The Samsung Family Hub smart refrigerator has been offering grocery one-touch shopping directly from its doors since 2016 through a MasterCard app; however, engineers are working on taking this convenience to a higher level by means of sensors that detect when milk is running out, thereby initiating an automated ordering process.
Through smart technology integration, e-commerce business owners can offer better customer experiences, and this is an overall trend that has come to be known as Industry 4.0, often shortened to I4.0, which encompasses new paradigms such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things, blockchain tokens, artificial intelligence, and others.
With the above in mind, here are some I4.0 trends that can certainly improve e-commerce customer experience:
Progressive Web Apps
The debate over whether progressive web apps are better than their native counterparts can be easily settled with e-commerce scenarios. Let's say an online shop specializes in selling gadgets meant to be operated via smartphone apps, one example being small drones. In this case, it is easier and safer to assume that prospective shoppers are likely to use advanced smartphones, thereby justifying the development of a native app that takes advantage of all the bells and whistles of higher-end devices.
Now let's consider a budget fashion boutique for shoppers who can't afford Dolce & Gabbana or Prada. We can assume that these shoppers may be using budget Android Go smartphones, thus making a progressive web app more reasonable because it will not take up too much memory or resources. Such apps can already be developed within the Magento e-commerce platform.
Creating Content That Speaks to All Customers
Getting back to the fashion boutique example, let's say a new shipment of black cocktail dresses arrives and it needs to move quickly; a good content move in this regard would be to get models for every size in stock. A bad content move would be to only take photos in small dress sizes just because the model looks better. Needless to say, the photos should be of the highest quality and appropriately tagged with SEO terms.
Live Retail Events
This is an advanced strategy that may not work for all shops, but it is certainly worth the effort. Offline customer experiences are great for branding, and they tend to work better for shops that sell collectibles, memorabilia and cultural items. These offline events and "pop-up shops" can be easily promoted on niche social networks such as Snapchat, and they do not have to be overly ambitious. Let's say an online comic book store does not have the resources to rent a booth at the San Diego Comic-Con; what about Comic Fest or some other smaller event in Southern California.
In the end, e-commerce business owners who do not take time to research customer experience improvement in 2019 will risk falling victim to a future "online retail apocalypse." Keep in mind that customers will continue to vote with their smartphones as long as e-commerce is around.