Retailers Must Improve The Cross-Channel Customer Experience

Allurent recently released results of a survey which found that 41% of consumers — up from 28% in 2005 — said that a frustrating online experience would make them less likely to shop that retailer’s physical store. Nearly six in ten said that a frustrating online experience negatively impacts their opinion of the retailer. According to Graeme Grant, Allurent’s VP of sales,

The line between off- and on-line brand experience is blurring. An online store needs to provide the same exceptional customer experience as the store’s physical location in order to build and maintain customers’…loyalty with the brand.”

Graeme is right-on with the first part of his comment (that the lines are blurring) — but not the latter. ForSee Results has found that consumer satisfaction levels with eCommerce improved again last year. As reported in DM News:

The score for eCommerce firms (online retail, auction, brokerage and travel companies) last year rose to 80. The online retail score climbed 2.5 percent to 83. By comparison, satisfaction with the offline retail sector was 74.4.

In other words, the online experience is now better than the offline experience.

This is mixed news for retailers. While they deserve kudos for improving their customers’ online experience, some data from a survey that Epsilon recently completed suggests there’s a potential liabilityWhy did many consumers shop online in the first place (regardless of which firm they shopped with)? Convenience. This is a two-sided coin. One part is the convenience of shopping from their homes in their bathrobes, at 11pm, etc.

But there’s another side: Avoiding the inconvenience of dealing with holiday traffic, crowds, and the insipid help of part-time holiday sales help. [I know that the National Association of Part-time Temporarily Involved Mall Employees (NAP-TIME) won’t appreciate me calling the quality of their members’ help insipid, but if they move as fast as they do during the holiday season, then they probably won’t get around to flaming me for a few months.]

And so, the issue I have with Mr. Grant’s comment is that the offline experience is nowhere near “exceptional”.

Allurent’s survey found that many online shoppers would like to be able to click on an item and popup a window with more details about the product, or “feel” merchandise through better imagery, product descriptions and details. But is this where retailers should invest?

If the “line between off- and on-line brand experience is blurring” then retailers can’t decide to invest in the online channel without taking into account investment alternatives that improve the offline (formerly known as the “store”) experience.

Retailers have a few questions to address before they can make that investment allocation:

  • What percentage of customers say that a frustrating offline experience negatively impacts their overall opinion of the retailer/brand? (I bet it’s higher than 60%)
  • Which customers buy online because they had a bad store experience? (There are a lot of us Crankys out there, you know)
  • How many customers didn’t even want to come to our Web site because they had a bad store experience?

The bottom-line here is two-fold: 1) if the online/offline customer experience is blurring, then retailers’ investment decisions can’t be made in channel vacuums, and 2)

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