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ECommerceTimes.com

Consumers of All Ages Still Struggle on E-Commerce Sites

By Jack M. Germain
Nov 12, 2020 6:00 AM PT
consumers struggle on e-commerce sites

Online shoppers face myriad basic obstacles, including not being able to complete a purchase transaction.

A survey by customer engagement firm goMoxie shows that consumers struggle to complete basic tasks on retail websites. Most are more likely to abandon the experience or switch to a competitor rather than seek assistance.

The research, based on 1,063 adult consumers across all ages, genders, and regions in the United States, is especially concerning given the challenges many retailers already face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to eMarketer, e-commerce sales will climb by 18 percent in 2020 to reach $709.78 billion. That represents 14.5 percent of total U.S. retail sales.

This increased volume suggests expanded opportunities for online retailers. But high levels of shopper-struggle and abandonment indicate that many of these businesses are failing to realize their full sales potential. Droves of retailers are not digitally prepped for holiday shoppers online and need to act fast to change course if they are to succeed.

As a critical holiday shopping season approaches, the goMoxie survey signals a need for a more proactive approach for online sellers to ensure ease-of-use for customers and maximize revenue. GoMoxie researchers compiled an action plan based on the study, aimed to combat missteps retailers make with their e-commerce platforms.

The study revealed that retailers need to do a better job of guiding customers with proactive and relevant information throughout the entire shopping journey, according to Tara Sporrer, senior vice president of marketing at goMoxie.

"Findings showed that despite the effort companies have made to improve the customer experience, 40 percent of retail consumers still struggle to complete basic tasks when transacting online," she told the E-Commerce Times.

Digital Basics Bring Failure

Online merchants should not just wait out consumers' learning curve to catch up. Digital shoppers will learn their needed skills elsewhere.

Taking that route, retailers would be waiting a long time -- and lose potential revenue by remaining stagnant to the innovations competitors are rapidly adopting, Sporrer retorted.

"Smart retailers are meeting customer expectations and focusing on guiding customers through the shopping experience with interaction channels they prefer," she said.

Instead, Internet retailers need to design their digital store experience to meet shoppers' deficiencies. Forcing them to adapt does not work.

"Just like a helpful associate would in a store, online shoppers still need an element of expert guidance through checkout," noted Sporrer.

The well-designed website provides the needed information at the point of struggle, without requiring the involvement of an agent.

Consumer Confusion

The appearance of a shopper's low "digital IQ" may be less a question of consumer ineptness and more an issue with newcomer confusion. Either way, retailers have little time to put together a quick fix in time for this holiday shopping season.

Many shoppers, especially older adults, are looking at online shopping this year due to the pandemic. These people have traditionally been in-store shoppers, either due to familiarity or fondness of the so-called "shopping experience," according to Sridhar Jayaraman, vice president of engineering at Qentelli.

"Now, they are faced with the challenge of navigating the digital world, which in many cases has been optimized for the millennial persona. Product search, size charts, color options, recommendation engines, loyalty usage, and even basic navigation can seem complex to those who do not always shop online," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Retailers can do a few things to look more approachable to those who are new to online shopping, Jayaraman offered. One is to provide a simplified shopping experience site, sort of a "lite" version, on both Web and mobile channels. This also reduces the chance of unfamiliar shopper failing in the software ecosystem.

Another quick fix is to implement web overlays based on shopping behaviors. For example, provide easy access for an agent to call them if they are spending too much time scrolling on a page, etc.

Action Plan for Sellers

Retailers have tried over the years to improve the customer experience while using company websites. Still, consumers struggle to complete basic tasks with online transactions, noted Sporrer.

Consumers have seen little-to-no improvement. E-commerce conversion rates have stayed stubbornly low for the last 20-plus years as a result, she said.

"Based on our findings, we recommend retailers guide customers throughout their entire purchasing journey -- as soon as they arrive on the site, all the way to when they check out, as well as when they return back for service and support," advised Sporrer.

Companies can avoid the consumer struggles while improving the customer experience without compromising efficiency. How? By doing two basic things: meet customer expectations and focus on the action channels customers prefer.

Doing these two things can help businesses recover some of the $18 billion in yearly sales revenue lost to shopping cart abandonment, added Sporrer.

Watch for Warning Signs

Start by focusing on the channels your customers prefer. Retailers who want to keep customers in the digital channel should focus on interacting via email and live chat. Text messaging and bots are the least preferred interaction channels, according to goMoxie's report on the customer survey.

Online shoppers will have struggles with your website. That is guaranteed. Retailers need to anticipate and read customers' online behavior to reduce or fully avoid customer difficulties.

Online customers tell you where they are and often what they need by their behavior. Do not expect them to ask for help. Most won't. Guide them instead, the goMoxie report urges retailers.

All generations struggle with website shopping issues in varying degrees. Surprisingly, the generation totally raised with the Internet, Generation Z, had the highest percentage of respondents report that they have recently struggled to make a purchase from a retailer online at the rate of 46 percent.

Make Strategic Reactions

GoMoxie also recommends solving customers' online troubles by optimizing their interaction channels. Retailers need to be proactive when detecting customer struggles by offering live chat or email assistance based on website visitors' urgency and needs. Do not ignore their obstacles. Remove them.

Before marketers invest in technology to support online customers, they should make sure those shoppers will use it. You might expect the solution is to beef up online help. Wrong thinking. GoMoxie's research shows that only one in four sought help online.

When encountering struggles online, 62 percent of consumers abandoned the shopping experience. That drove 52 percent of digital consumers to complete their online shopping at a competitor's website.

Sometimes Less Is More

Quentelli's Jayaraman suggests offering online shoppers a guided experience based on questions. For example, before products are shown, display just one question to start.

That could look like the question, "What can we help you with today?" Then offer a few response options such as, "Buying a gift," "Check for a specific product," etc.

Based on the individual shopper's response, the retailer can ask additional questions. This process can lead to more narrow displays of products.

The report concludes that the significant shift to online in such a short period of time presents an opportunity for many retailers. Jayaraman agrees.

"This is an opportunity for retailers not only to sell more but also to increase stickiness of the new population of consumers who are going to be shopping online for the foreseeable future," he said.

Merchants must realize that there are distinct personas who are buying online who do not want any human interactions. There are more online consumers now than the typical savvy shoppers, he added.

Retailers also need to offer innovative shopping channels such as WhatsApp, live chat, and human-assisted chatbots. While there is pressure to reduce call center investments, retailers have to recognize that this season is fundamentally different from previous years, according to Jayaraman.

For example, price matching, returns, and product questions are areas where customer support may see increased volume. Investments in resilience, modernization of legacy back-office systems, and a well-educated customer service team are critical for retail leaders, he explained.

"In fact, customer service is one of the key battlegrounds in the near future," Jayaraman maintained.

Proactive, Clear Communication Vital

Sure, the information consumers need is no doubt somewhere on the website. Rattled shoppers finding what they need, when they need it, is the problem they face. That is especially true when shopping on mobile devices.

Retailers need to guide consumers to complete basic tasks online. They can best do this by presenting snippets of contextual and relevant information.

"A nudge may be all that is needed to keep the customer engaged in completing the purchase," noted goMoxie's Sporrer.

For instance, tell website visitors how to enter a coupon or gift card before they receive an error. Guide customers to reset their password to avoid lockout. That will avoid frustration and difficulty that needs a call or email exchange.

Aim for Frictionless Shopping

Prime the convenience pump to keep a new online customer. Do not make them contact the retailer for basic information. Those two points are critical for retailers to achieve better online shopping success for both consumers and retailers.

Guide them to the "Where Is My Order?" page or offer up the return policy before they contact the business. The goal is to save live agents for valuable interactions. More importantly, online retailers need to save their customers valuable time, according to the goMoxie report.

"Many companies have built a service model around failure. Put up a website, offer a phone number, and assume that consumers will either figure it out or ask for help," said Sporrer.

That model is flawed. Studies show that only reacting to consumer failure leads to low conversion rates and customer frustration, she explained.

Instead, retailers need to shift the sales model to one based on guidance and ease. Removing friction and anticipating struggle will reap success for both businesses and consumers.

Bottom Line

Consumers should not have to struggle to do business online, urges Sporrer. Unfortunately, many do, and they end up leaving.

"We have already seen retail customer interaction volumes more than double year-over-year leading into the holiday shopping season. Retailers should be taking steps now to guide every customer to success in order to increase transactions, strengthen satisfaction and make the most of the sales opportunities for the 2020 holiday season and beyond," she advised.


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.


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