Customer Expectations In An E-commerce World

Michael KeatingGeneral BusinessLeave a Comment

Customer Experience

The world was altered forever when Amazon flipped their on switch and pushed their site live in 1995. This was the birth of e-commerce. Actually, there was a transaction that occurred on April 27th in 1995 by Paul Stanfield for a book from CompuServe that was the first “official” transaction. However, most people probably attribute the birth of e-commerce to websites like Amazon and eBay. These website deserve much credit for where current e-commerce has evolved, but they are in no way the sole reason.

According to Statista, e-commerce sales have seen an average compound growth rate of 13.47 percent and close to reaching several hundred billion dollars which is up 72 billion since 2002. These numbers are astounding! What makes it even more unreal, is the fact that there are about 195 million Online Consumers in the U.S. and the WSJ reports that a study in 2013 reported that 70 percent of more than 3,000 online shoppers prefer visiting their favorite retailer online.

Below is a chart from Statista that shows the annual B2C e-commerce sales in the U.S. from 2003 to 2013:

Statistic: Annual B2C e-commerce sales in the United States from 2002 to 2013 (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista

Customer Expectations When Shopping Online

Every customer who shops online does so for a particular reason. They may live in a small town where the nearest mall is 100 miles away (yes places like this do exist) so driving just isn’t worth it. In other cases they may not feel like dealing with the hustle and bustle of the mall during the holidays. In both situations, the customer has made a choice to turn to e-commerce rather than a brick-n-mortar retail location.

5 Reasons Customers Choose To Shop Online

  1. Convenience– Let’s face it. Shopping at home in your pajamas, wearing no make-up and spending absolutely no money on gas is quite amazing. It really doesn’t get any better than that!
  2. Variety– There is nothing more frustrating than finding a pair of jeans on the rack at your local Surf Shop that you absolutely love. The material is soft, they have the right cut, but there is an issue, they don’t have your size. The bus stops there, but if you are shopping online, finding your size is as easy as the click of a button.
  3. Price– Unless you are shopping at Marshalls, chances are high that the price of your desired item is much more expensive at the mall than it is at your favorite e-commerce site. The sites that I frequent most when shopping online, offer consistent discounts in the 30-60% off range. Got to love all the deal websites out there!
  4. Comparisons– Most major e-commerce websites will give you the option of comparing two items you like side-by-side. This gives you the ability to compare specs, details and anything else of interest for the product you are looking to buy. Other websites like Nextag will allow you to compare prices between completely different websites on a variety of products.
  5. Fun (oh, and less stressful)- Shopping at the mall with your friends can be fun if you in the right mood. However, most people in 2014 would rather be shopping online, asking their friends for ideas and letting everyone know about the cool Nixon watch they just bought.

Main Reasons Consumers Get Frustrated Shopping Online

  • Website Functionality + Performance – Being an Internet marketer who manages e-commerce websites, there is nothing more frustrating than a website that just doesn’t work. If a website’s purpose is to sell products and a customer is unable to find the product they want or even worse, check out properly (and easily), then Houston, we have a problem! Time and time again I’ve dealt with clients who have a website that is flat out horrible in both design and functionality. Personally, if I can’t check out on the first attempt there is about a 90 percent chance I’m bailing on that shopping cart. According to Baymard Institute, 67.45% of online shopping carts are abandoned. That hurts!
  • Product Selection – As an e-commerce website, consumers have the expectation that your website will have 100s of product variations such as different models, sizes, colors, etc. There are WELL OVER 1,000,000 products on Amazon and unfortunately that means your website should have this many as well. Obviously this isn’t realistic, but anything short of multiple products in-stock will leave consumers frustrated with your website.
  • Customer Service – Oh customer service, how you have evolved since the inception of the Internet. Companies like Zappos with their revolutionary 365 day return policy really set that bar high for the non-Goliath e-commerce provider. It seems that if a consumer doesn’t receive “free shipping”, “free returns” or some other perk with purchase they become frustrated. Also, if your e-commerce website doesn’t have a chat feature, 24/7 customer service or at least a 24 hour response time to inquiries, you are in the minority.

Customer Service + Customer Expectations

The customer service point discussed above is the driving force behind writing this article. Recent events with Online purchases have exhibited both good and bad examples of customer service. So after taking a moment to assess each situation, I asked myself, “was the customer service bad or do I have unrealistic expectations”? It turns out, I think the answer to both is yes. Let me explain.

With e-commerce being such a common way of purchasing, we’ve grown to have certain expectations. When you purchase from large players like Amazon or Overstock, you receive quick shipping, immediate responses, and almost flawless check out experiences. With smaller online retailers like your local surf shop you most likely won’t (but you may) get any of these same royalties. But the question is, “how can you expect the same service from a small company compared to a billion dollar company with a million resources”? The answer is you can’t and you shouldn’t, but we do anyway and I doubt this will be corrected any time soon. Some smaller Online retailers have nailed it, while others just don’t get it right despite using third party help desk platforms.

Good Example of Customer Service

I recently made a purchase from Attic one of my favorite shops to pick up gear down in San Diego. After placing my order Online, I received my confirmation via email with the details about the order. The check out process was simple and the user experience on the site was adequate. About what you would expect from a shop of this caliber.

A few days pass by and I decide to check on the status of my order. I click the confirmation number in my email where I’m redirected to the USPS site. To my surprise, the package had already been scanned and “delivered” a day ago. Finding it odd since I never received the package I reached out to the USPS to inquire about my issue. As you can assume, they offered absolutely no information aside from what I already knew. They did inform me that the package was insured by Attic and I could ask them to file a claim through the postal service. I’m thinking, “great, I won’t be seeing jeans or money for about a month”.

I sent Attic an email explaining my problem, and within an hour I received a response from customer service explaining they will give me a refund and they are sorry for my troubles.

Attic email response

Now they didn’t have to immediately accommodate my request. They could have asked questions to find out if I was being dishonest with them. But they didn’t find the need. The team at Attic clearly understands the value in great customer service because it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Bad Example of Customer Service

I’m going to be honest and say this one hurts. It kills me to put this company on blast because the majority of my wardrobe comes from their Online store. Plndr you can do better! For an established e-commerce site, the customer service is below average. Let me put this into context.

I recently made a purchase on Plndr for a few button down shirts. As usual, I loved the style of the shirts and also the price (huge discounts are always a plus). When trying to place my order, it took three attempts to finally check out. This was unusual as their check out is generally reliable. On my third attempt, I was able to get the order to process. It turns out that it pulled in my old shipping address and my new shipping address that I added on the first and second attempts didn’t remain. So now we have a placed order heading to the wrong address.

Realizing my mistake I immediately send them an email to their “support” address indicating the mix up. I asked them if they could swap out the address so the package could be delivered properly. Over 48 hours later I receive an email letting me know that the order had shipped to my old address. Damn it! Then directly after that I receive a response from “customer service” saying it is too late to adjust my shipping address because it already shipped.

plndr support email

No shit it is too late, it took you over 2 days to respond to my message. So when they asked how I would rate their customer service I let them know that it was bad based on my situation. Their response to this? Nothing. It didn’t exist.

Conclusion About Customer Expectations

As you can see both of these situations were handled in completely different ways. Once left me satisfied, more loyal and praising the company for their efforts. The other left me unsatisfied and writing a blog post about my negative experience.

At the start of this post, the conversation was about the evolution of e-commerce and how customer expectations have changed in parallel. As e-commerce becomes more prevalent and big brands continue to raise the bar with their marketing, customer service, return policies, and shipping, the smaller players need to keep up. Customers will continue in their desire for more and the small brands should make the decision to provide for those same individuals who make them successful.

About the Author

Michael Keating

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Mike is a prolific digital marketing strategist, entrepreneur and SEO specialist who understands how to drive results using integrated digital strategies. He is one of the founders of Octatools and is excited about the opportunity to help DIY SEOs and business owners get results online.

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