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15 January 2020

5 things I learned about e-commerce as a 20-something online shopper

In addition to being an enthusiastic marketer, I am, of course, also a consumer. Paying extra attention to promotions and marketing messages; I love to shop and am not afraid to buy online because it is easy, convenient and fast. Or maybe I’d better say: it should be easy, convenient and fast. I must admit that since I started shopping online, I have had my fair share of experiences where things did not go as smoothly as anticipated.

5 e-commerce lessons for online marketers

I would like to share 5 lessons for online marketers, ranging from the discovery phase to the post-purchase follow-up that I have learned from being an avid online shopper.

1. The discovery: Watch out for automatically-aggregated prices

One of the advantages online is the ability to tailor your offer to the person surfing. It can be a great advantage to gear prices to a specific person. However, if it very obviously works against a customer, you risk losing that customer for good. So sort out your automatically aggregated prices and be sure to test them continuously.

From time to time I buy at one of the big online fashion retailers operating in Belgium. They have quite a good follow-up system in place and send out e-mails when one of the products you have looked at online comes up with a discount. Last month, there was a pair of sneakers I was looking to buy. I received an e-mail announcing sales on the item. Since I was positive I wanted those shoes, it was a good trigger for me to finish the purchase. However, as soon as I clicked on the to put it into my basket, I noticed that the discount had mysteriously disappeared. Somehow, there was a 35% discount on all sizes of the sneakers, except for size 39, which (you’ll never guess) is my size. I retried it a couple of times to see if there was some kind of mistake, but there was no way around it: I was not getting a discount.

Image this happening in a bricks-and-mortar store. Your friend with a smaller shoe size gets a discount, but you don’t. For no apparent reason. This seemed, to say the least, a bit unfair to me, and put me off the purchase for good.

2. The purchase: Time your promotions right

Think carefully about your customer journey when creating automated e-mail flows. It can be a great idea to send that promotional e-mail out to people who are just looking around, but that same e-mail can quickly morph into an experience-breaker if you release it at the wrong time.

A while ago, I bought some bedlinen from a Scandinavian brand I really like. I was excited about the purchase because I had been looking for something for a while and had finally found my perfect match. So far, so good. While completing the purchase, during the check-out procedure, there was a subscription box for the newsletter. I ticked the box, because I like to see what other marketers come up with to amuse their audience. However, I could not have predicted what happened next. Just after I paid, I received my first newsletter. With a “welcome” message and a promocode for 20% off my first purchase.

Yes, you are reading that correctly. They offered me a promotion code for my first purchase, one minute AFTER my first purchase. Talk about bad timing! My warm post-purchase feeling quickly vanished into thin air while reading the e-mail.

(If you are wondering how this online story ended: I e-mailed the company and, in the end, still got the 20% off!)

3. The delivery: Do not promise delivery timeframes that are too specific, or, if you do, make sure you deliver on your promises

Why raise expectations on delivery when you are not 100% sure you will be able to keep them?

Last week, I placed my first order at an online flower delivery service. I ticked the option for delivery between 6 and 10 pm, knowing that in actual fact I would only be home at 7 pm. A calculated risk, but one that seemed like a safe bet. The day before, I received a text message with the timeframe of the delivery. It was, of course, between 6 and 6.30 pm. Annoyed, I activated the boyfriend, who, a little reluctantly, rearranged his schedule and agreed to be home at that time. So you can image our surprise when we discovered later that the flowers were actually delivered at 5 pm to our neighbor’s house. This, of course, was not a catastrophe, but it certainly annoyed us.

When a specific timeframe like this is given, the consumer expects that promise to be kept. Delivery is can often be a thorny problem for webshops. It is something a customer expects to go perfectly, even though delivery is often out of the control of the online shop. That’s why my advice would be to not be too specific: It’s better to be safe than sorry!

4. The return: Be clear on return policies

When building a long-term relationship with an online customer, it is very important to be upfront and clear about delivery and returns to avoid disappointment after the purchase.

As mentioned before, delivery is often a hard nut to crack for webshops, especially for the smaller ones. It is hard competing with the big pure play companies that are always offering free deliveries and returns, which, even for them, are not an entirely sustainable option. However, whatever your webshop’s policy about delivery and returns, make sure it is clear for the customer. It is, of course, easier to hide the return or delivery options in an obscure FAQ section if they are not very attractive. But there is nothing more disappointing for the customer than discovering (after the purchase) that a return is very expensive or a near-impossible task to complete.

5. The follow-up: Make it personal and aim to delight

Doing an unexpected thing to delight your customer is something that can leave a lasting impression and will help you to win the race against your competition.

Personalization is an undeniable trend, both in goods and in services. Where the online shopping experience lacks something versus the classic shopping experience, personalization can make up for it. The one and only time I took a picture of the packaging of a delivery was when there was a personal card attached to it wishing me, personally, good luck with the dress I bought. This might seem a bit of an unnecessary extra effort, but it certainly sticks (positively) with your customer.

So my final tip would be to try and delight your customer and to make it personal! 

I would summarize this piece by saying that a consumer notices more than a marketer might suspect. Think carefully about all aspects of the customer experience of your webshop and continue trying out all the different customer journeys. And of course: keep enjoying your own online shopping!