Interview with…Yours Truly! On Customer Experience, Social & More

When our friends over at CorraTech (a Magento partner that provides design, strategy, development and support to multi-channel and pure-play retailers) asked if they could interview me for their blog I thought, ‘Why not?’ Actually, I was quite flattered they would think of me and was happy to have a chat.

Below is Part I of the two-part interview I did with Michael Harvey, COO at CorraTech. Enjoy, and please indulge me in reading their highly-complementary bio. I’m blushing!

Recently we had the opportunity to chat with Kelly Hushin, editor of The eTail Blog, about some of the latest trends in the eCommerce world. Kelly interacts with some of the top eCommerce experts on a daily basis and has a unique perspective on what makes for a successful online platform. In part one of our interview with Kelly we talk about creating a top-notch customer experience and the future of mobile and social commerce.

When people talk about successful eCommerce platforms, they often talk about the importance of customer engagement and the customer experience. At CorraTech we’ve developed the eCommerce Engagement Hierarchy to try and define and explain the steps that are required to achieve the highest levels of engagement. What do you think are some things that the best sites do to enhance the customer experience?

I think in talking about the customer experience in general there are number of things that retailers can consider. The number one thing I keep hearing from people in the industry is that you can’t keep thinking about your distribution channels separately because your customers don’t. Customers don’t care if they’re on their mobile phone or on Facebook or in your store. They’re just looking for one consistent message across all platforms. So retailers need to stop thinking about their channels in silos. They need to think about all of the brand channels at once.

Secondly, I would say they need to pay attention to the details. Different customers want different things when they’re shopping online, but no one likes it when their shopping experience is interrupted. Let’s say you’re shopping for something and getting ready for checkout and you suddenly remember you wanted to purchase something else. If it’s confusing or difficult to easily exit your shopping cart to get back to the products page that could frustrate the customer. Those little details can be really important.

Finally, don’t play games with your customers. Be up front and honest with them about product availability and promotions. If a customer tries to purchase something and they complete the purchase but the next day they receive an email that says the order can’t be fulfilled because the product is out of stock, that’s going to annoy people. That’s something that can be communicated right on the checkout screen.

Another game retailers play is with coupons and discount codes. It might not be clear what products the discounts and coupons apply to. They may only be valid for regularly priced items, but if that’s not made very clear to consumers, they may run into problems. Generally, I would say retailers should follow the golden rule of eCommerce: treat your customers they way you want to be treated.

A lot of those tips could apply to online and brick and mortar merchants. Do you think there are any specific things that a pure-play merchant should consider when it comes to the customer experience?

I’m not sure if there are any specific or different steps that a pure play merchant should take, but I will say that when you don’t have a physical presence it can be even more important to make sure you have a great customer experience. If I have an issue placing an order while I’m shopping on a website associated with a brick and mortar retailer, I might just hop in car or take a walk to the store. But if the same thing happens on a pure-play website, they’ve now lost my business.

There was a report that came out recently that showed that four out of five Smartphone users accessed a retail website or app on their phone in the month of July. What do you see for the future of mobile?

At this point, every retailer knows that they have to be in mobile. For a few solid years now we’ve been hearing retailers say we have to have a mobile presence because our customers are using mobile, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re optimizing for mobile. I think the big question right now is the conversion rates.

Retailers aren’t convinced that consumers will make a purchase on their Smartphones. But if you look at tablet conversion rates, they are higher and I think the market for tablet sales will be huge moving forward. For example, Sunday night I went on my tablet and went to make an order on the website of a major retailer and I can’t tell you how many problems I had with the site. I tried to complete the order 3 or 4 times and it wouldn’t work. So I actually had to go on my laptop and complete the order. I had been thinking about this purchase for a while so I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t going to go somewhere else for it, but a lot of people would have just abandoned the order. So I think retailers need to look at tablets and at least make sure your site is optimized for it. I think a big reason for the lack of conversion rates for mobile is because sites aren’t designed well or implemented properly, not because consumers are unwilling to make mobile purchases.

What about social commerce? So far it seems like not many retailers have had a lot of success with it. What are your thoughts on its future?

I think social’s a tough one. I think it really comes down to understanding why customers are spending time on a certain channel. I think most people are spending time on social media for reasons other than commerce. So I’m not sure how much potential there is to make sales. I know a number of retailers have tried to set up social stores. I don’t have any specific numbers but I know that some people I’ve talked to have liked it and think it’s going somewhere and other people think it’s a dead end.

But just because you can’t make sales with social, that doesn’t mean you can’t influence purchasing decisions. I think the one thing everyone can agree on is it’s a powerful branding tool. If you think about Facebook and Twitter, there aren’t many places like that where you can speak to consumers directly. I was speaking to an executive recently and she said to me “What other channel out there is your customer willing to hear from you on multiple times a day?” It’s completely true. You wouldn’t email or call them multiple times a day. That would just annoy them. But on social networks, that kind of interaction is acceptable. As long as you look at social as a way to further your brand I think you can have a lot of influence.

But it’s really a wide open area right now so I don’t know if I’d be willing to make a definitive prediction. I think there might be ways that retailers could sell directly through Facebook. People are spending more time on Facebook than Twitter most likely. I’m sure that Facebook is working on ideas for this right now. Look at the announcement that just came out about being able to provide real gifts to your friends through Facebook. That’s a direct sale. We’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.

To be continued…