Sometime back I was at University of Wollongong in Dubai on a panel discussing “Internet Marketing” in UAE. We discussed how e-commerce is increasing in UAE at $2.3 billion in 2011 and grabs a major chunk of online business in GCC. People find it easier to look for bargains online and browse through products sitting in privacy of their homes.
Dubai being the mall city of the world, there was a common concern among people about the future of malls if more people opted for online shopping. With Dubai mall hosting 54 million visitors in 2011, I am sure that the future of malls is not in immediate danger.
Online models are cheaper for sellers as well as buyers, so there is huge incentive for both to switch to online model. Low barriers to entry have lead to explosion in e-com sites. And group buying websites like Groupon, Living Social and Cobone are luring more people to buy online.
Under such a scenarios, the key for any retailer to be successful is the marriage of its online and brick-and-mortar identity. I love to shop online and if it were possible, I would even buy my groceries online. Just that the current websites do not deliver me the fraction of experience I would like to have.
Why do I shop online?
Shopping online saves me time, is comfortable, gives me privacy to look at a product(s) any number of times, lets me look at bargains easily (there are apps which let you compare the price of a product at various website), and avoids the need of human interaction which I mostly find sub-standard.
Must haves of Online Experience
Before we delve into the future of online experience, let us have a look at some of the must haves to deliver a positive customer experience.
Website Design – A cluttered page, which makes me search for basic information is an instant put off. Products should be well laid out and categorized with various search filters. Developers have to pay attention to delivering a superior user experience.
Website Speed – 40% online shoppers start shopping somewhere else if page takes more than 3 seconds to load. Amazon has found that its sales drop by 1% with every 100-millisecond increase in page load time. The objective is for online experience to be similar to shop experience where the customer walks easily from one aisle to another in order to find a product. Similarly while browsing online, customer should be able to move to next product without a lag.
Contact Information – I feel uncomfortable to shop from sites where contact information is buried in pages. That tells me that the company does not want the customers to contact them.
Availability of Information – like Shipping/Return of goods has to be handy. This lets customers decide beforehand and saves them from last minute surprises.
Easy Return Policy – A friendly return policy makes it easier for customers to trust a website and make final purchase.
Security – When customers use their plastic online, they want to be 100% sure that the information would not be misused. And lag on security can cost an organization its whole existence.
Future of Online Experience -
In future the online retailers would have to deliver a customized experience aggregating data from sources that are relevant to customers. Social shopping is catching up fast. These websites use gaming models of badges and incentives to motivate people to share information about their latest purchases. The e-commerce website has to be integrated with such shopping websites as well as social networking websites.
Complement stores to online experience – As I mentioned above, the success for a retailer depends on effective marriage of its online and brick-and-mortar identity. Imagine that you visit a website, select all clothes/accessories you like and then at checkout, you have the option of buying online or buying at a store. You select buying at a store and when you visit the store, your online cart is waiting for you; everything as per your size. You have the freedom to try the dresses and change items at that instant itself, if needed. This is a win-win for both retailers and shoppers.
Shopping Suggestions – While you are browsing online, a retailer has so much information about you. Your clicks determine your liking and your interest. With proper use of analytics, it can suggest you similar products or matching accessories. It is so intuitive; still very few websites use it effectively. It is like how intelligent is the sales person to gauge your taste and suggest you stuff accordingly. Once you get such sales person/analytics, you are a winner. You can customize your offering as per the liking of your customers.
Trying clothes online – Imagine the website has the ability to capture your image using the camera on your machine or has the option for you to upload a picture of yours. You can then try various clothes on your picture and see how you look.
Seamless Networking – Ability to integrate with social networking/shopping sites and come up with names of your friends who have bought similar products. If your friends have commented on those products, the website should be able to pull them out for you.
Mobile optimized website/Apps – With users accessing more and more websites from their smartphones, the websites have to be mobile optimized. Finding a way to present information on a small smartphone screen or a tablet would be another key to success.
No Password please – Websites use face recognition. This way there would be no need to remember endless passwords.
This scenario looks very nice, but it involves umpteen numbers of websites to talk to each other and hence involves privacy concerns. I do hope that organizations are able to keep the customer experience in mind and genuinely work to create trust between them and with the customers. I do look forward to a leap in my online shopping experience.