April 2009 | Commentary | IT Matters

From Click to Curb: Earning and Keeping E-commerce Customers

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For consumers who want to avoid dealing with overzealous salespeople and crowded stores, online shopping offers the perfect alternative. U.S. online sales are expected to grow from $132 billion in 2006 to $271 billion in 2011, according to a study by Forrester Research. The same report estimates that the e-commerce market segment could soon claim 10 percent of all retail sales.

How can an e-commerce retailer ensure that it gets a piece of that pie? Online shoppers expect a streamlined shopping experience, quick and easy browsing, clear item descriptions and photos, in-stock products, timely and reasonably priced delivery, and swift, painless customer service and problem resolution. When shoppers find an online retailer that delivers all that, they are likely to return.

Delivering service

While the path from "click to curb" for e-commerce transactions is more complicated than the average online shopper realizes, the most successful companies make the process completely transparent to the buyer. The following are keys to providing a shopping experience that makes customers want to come back:

  • Ease of purchase.One feature that helps create a pleasant online shopping experience is one-click purchasing, which benefits both the retailer and consumer. This limits the human and mechanical errors that can occur with a complex, multi-step purchasing process. We've all experienced the frustration of a 20-minute purchasing transaction that ends with an error message. It does nothing to build loyalty.Amazon.com recently introduced an advanced application of one-click transactions. The online retailer allows users to text message a product name to its database. Almost instantly, the database texts back a price quote and follows up with a personal phone call to place the order. As the technology evolves, consumers will be able to complete their transactions digitally.
  • Visibility.Some retailers choose to outsource their e-commerce functions to third-party service providers, which adds a degree of complexity to the online transaction. But just as consumers want to know where their orders are and when they will arrive, the retailer needs to have visibility into the inner workings of its channel so it can provide customer service. Visibility tools help fulfill this need.
  • Standard, streamlined processes. In addition to providing a seamless ordering and delivery experience, the retailer should offer an easy procedure for handling the inevitable product returns. A seamless, streamlined, and transparent returns process benefits both the seller and consumer. A global network of customer service centers, warehouses, and shipping facilities is key, as are standardized facility procedures and clear, consumer-friendly return policies.

KEEPING SHOPPERS ON THE LINE

Companies that are serious about instituting e-commerce platforms should consider the consumer first and foremost. Providing ease of use, reliability, and customer service creates a shopping experience consumers will want to repeat. E-tailers must understand the entire customer experience, and should consider whether its needs are better managed in-house or if an outsourced partner provides more advantages.

A seamless, transparent, and painless click-to-curb experience will go far in building and maintaining online customer loyalty.

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