How to Compete with the Top E-Retailers

consumer with mug shopping online ecommerce


[Estimated read time: 5 minutes]

Every month, more people visit Amazon than visit their own families. (Of course, maybe if they could show up to see their families at 2 AM in their pajamas and leave with boxes full of shoes, electronics, and groceries, they’d choose differently!) But it’s not just Amazon they’re hooked on. Apple, ranked number two in online sales, saw 40% growth in that area in 2016, while eighth place Target grew by 23% and number 11 Nike shot up almost 54%.

In other words, consumers love shopping online!

They don’t love everything about it, though. It turns out they have quite a few complaints, ranging from badly organized sites and frustrating mobile apps to expensive shipping charges and strict return policies. But when it comes to the biggest online retailers, consumer frustrations have one common theme: lack of a personal touch.

Over three-fourths of consumers view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. Not free shipping and not a catalog with millions of products (fewer than four out of 10 Amazon shoppers cite product selection as a driving factor), but customer service. In fact, 86% of consumers are even willing to pay more for an upgraded service experience.

And top-notch customer service—the kind that leaves shoppers smiling and ready to shout your name from the rooftops—is hard for the big stores to provide. They can reach the level of satisfactory service through quick fixes and store credits, but their sheer volume of interactions means they struggle to provide the personal touch that consumers crave.

Yes, mega-retailers find it challenging to provide that truly personal touch, but they try. And they often look like they’re succeeding. Let’s take a look at two key situations to figure out how you can gain an advantage.

Support During the Purchase Process

Over 80% of shoppers require some degree of customer support while making an online purchase, and 53% will abandon their online purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their questions. The top sites attempt to address this trend through a Q&A section. Consumers ask questions for the store, the manufacturer, or even other consumers to answer.

What happens when a customer has a question that hasn’t already been answered, though? They have to submit it and wait—sometimes hours but usually days or more—for a response that might not even be helpful. (We’ve all seen someone ask a simple question about, say, the size of an item only to have a fellow consumer respond that they didn’t like the color.) That doesn’t help the over 70% of consumers who won’t wait longer than five minutes for the support they need.

How to Compete

Over three-fourths of consumers won’t buy from a website that doesn’t make chat available during the purchase process. You can win by including a live chat option on every page of your website. Don’t force customers to wait for a response that isn’t guaranteed to be helpful. Instead, offer friendly, knowledgeable agents on demand. You can even go one step further and use intelligent escalation to proactively offer chat to high-priority customers, based on criteria such as cart contents, self-service interaction history, or loyalty program membership.

Personalized Shopping Experience

About 75% of consumers prefer to do business with retailers that use their personal information to make the shopping experience more relevant, and adding personalization can lift sales by as much as 7.8%. Your customers are busy, and they don’t want to spend time browsing through pages and pages of products to find the one that’s right for them.

There’s no denying that Amazon and others are pros at collecting data and using it to personalize offers, product suggestions, and more: 57% of high-performing retailers gather real-time customer data and preferences to create more personalized web experiences. But data is where they stop. They can’t provide the personal touch that turns shopping from a task into an experience. As Zmags puts it, “Amazon makes it easy to buy, not to shop and discover.”

If you know you need to buy garbage bags, for example, the top e-retailers can use demographics, purchase history, pricing data, and ratings to show you which option is the right choice, and it can be on its way to your doorstep in less than a minute. But if you’re trying to buy the perfect gift for your mother-in-law, you need more.

How to Compete

One of the reasons brick-and-mortar stores are still around is that they provide a shopping experience that online retailers often struggle to recreate, including advice from knowledgeable associates, product demos, cross-sale suggestions, and a focus on what’s new or trendy.

However, with the right blend of technology and humans, it doesn’t have to be a struggle. The first step, as in the previous section, is easy access to live agents through chat. Let customers know they’re available for shopping advice as well as support. Consider also incorporating video chat, to allow agents to demonstrate product features, give how-to lessons, and suggest complementary products.

Consumers are more than twice as likely to be upsold by a human, but only 14% of contact center leaders think their agents currently have the necessary skills. And even if you’re a niche retailer, you can’t expect your employees to memorize the details of every product. Instead, adopt a CRM that uses intelligent guidance and a robust knowledgebase to walk agents through creating tailored interactions and making personalized product recommendations.

Even if you’re not in direct competition with these giants of e-commerce, consumers’ liquid expectations are affecting how they evaluate your business. You can differentiate yourself by putting a personal touch on every aspect of the customer experience.

Astute can help you find the right mix of technology to create the perfect CX. Our suite of smart consumer engagement software includes solutions for CRM, intelligent escalation, and knowledge management, as well as digital self-service, chatbots, and social media management. Request a demo today.

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