Customer Experience Lessons from the E-Commerce Purchase Journey

Customer experience has become so crucial to an organization that it is probably the only differentiator between you and your competitor. So, it should come as no surprise if I told you that customer expectations are constantly on the rise. But did you know that customer expectations are not similar across different industries? For example, a bank has to offer multi-channel support such as online banking, mobile app and phone, and even set up physical branches to ensure that customers have successful business transactions. If you consider the healthcare industry, customer expectations might be more limited to things such as notifications of their upcoming appointments. As for retail, it is highly necessary that the company is constantly engaging with their customers at different steps of the purchase cycle so that they enjoy a great shopping experience. The E-commerce model, in fact, is far more evolved than others because companies have found a way to proactively address customer pain points within the product itself or by reaching out. In this article, I’ll be taking a closer look at what the E-commerce industry has got right at every step of the way, and how you can apply these learnings to optimize customer experience for your business.

Before I do that, I want to tell you a story from a few years ago. Back when E-commerce was still new in India, Flipkart, an e-commerce company, understood that Indian customers were still not comfortable transacting online even though they had warmed up to the idea of online shopping. That’s when they came up with the game-changing idea of cash-on-delivery, which let customers pay hard cash at the time of delivery. This move worked wonders for Flipkart and today, cash-on-delivery contributes to about 60% of all Flipkart’s customer payments. And now you will find no online retail store that doesn’t offer cash-on-delivery as a payment option. That was an audacious move by Flipkart, wasn’t it? Flipkart understood their customers’ apprehension about online shopping and weeded it out even before it became a problem. This is an example of how important it is for an e-commerce business to understand customers’ expectations before you start shipping out their orders. You need be there at every step of the purchase cycle from the time they land on your website looking for a product till they get that product delivered to their doorsteps.

This is the purchase journey on an E-commerce website. 

Does this look familiar to you? Well, you’ll be surprised at how most of the features we’re now used to have evolved from an understanding of customer pain points. Now, let me break down the different stages of an online purchase cycle and show you examples of how E-commerce companies anticipate customer requirements and ensure a smooth purchase experience by reducing customer effort.

Stage 1: Research

This is the stage when customers haven’t made up their minds yet on what they want to purchase. The key goal at this stage for an E-commerce business is to ensure customers are able to find what they’re looking for easily and narrow down the number of available choices. A study by Harvard Business Review validates this fact by emphasizing on how decision simplicity is the key to customer loyalty.

So, how do business go about assisting customers to find the right product from a sea of options? Most E-commerce companies provide a huge range of filtering options to refine a product search. For example, if you’re purchasing a hat on Amazon, you can filter your search to include the type of material, the occasion you want to wear the hat for, the size, the brand, the color, the price range and a lot more options.

Once customers land on the product page, you need to be as detailed as possible and answer any question they can potentially have right there. Amazon specifies important details like product specifications, refund policies, and warranty details right at the top of the product screen. Some companies even feature illustrative picture and video guides to let users know how a product can be used.

If you see customers spending a long time on the product page, and notice that they’re still indecisive about making a purchase, you can proactively throw in a popup or initiate a chat here that asks them if they need any assistance in finding the right product. In the research stage, this nifty little feature would help guide the customer towards a choice.

Another way brands assist the user with product research is by offering recommendations of what other users have looked at, and what extra items can be bought in combination with a product. If you anticipate the needs of the buyer in advance and if they like your suggestions, it can help you cross-sell effectively.

Stage 2: Consideration

Now, the customer has found a product that they like, but are unsure about going ahead with the actual purchase. They need some kind of validation on whether they’re making the right decision.

This is where customer reviews play a crucial role. 90% of customers admit their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. Companies have understood this fact and have made customer reviews a part of the buying process. They also add “verified purchase” badges to these reviews to let other customers know that the reviewer is, in fact, a genuine buyer. The users are allowed to upload pictures along with their reviews, and these pictures give prospective buyers a feel of what the product will look like in person.

Companies like Amazon go one step further and create customer-driven forums, where users can answer each other’s questions and also engage directly with the sellers. This gives prospective buyers clarity on the kinds of issues that users are raising, and the steps sellers are taking to get their problems resolved. It also doubles up as a way to reduce your support team’s headaches as customers won’t even have to reach out to you if they can readily find help from other customers.

Some companies offer an even more personalized approach by going the extra mile for the customer to ease their buying process. Lenskart, an Indian online eyewear store, gives customers the flexibility to try out a bunch of sample frames at home for free. If the user is happy with the frame, he/she can purchase it on Lenskart later.

Stage 3: Purchase

This step involves the transition from taking the buying decision to making the final purchase. It’s important you make the checkout process as simple as possible for customers so that they don’t run into any unnecessary errors or issues at the final step of the purchase.

You can start by giving them a good amount of flexibility with regards to the payment options. Some customers might prefer to pay by card, while others might prefer the convenience of say Cash on Delivery or Apple Pay. You also need to make sure you don’t introduce them to new information right when they’re about to hit the Buy button. So, make sure all your tax amounts, delivery charges etc are specified well in advance.

Customers will also appreciate it if their added addresses are autofilled during checkout. This will save their time as they wouldn’t have to type their entire address all over again. Amazon does this nifty trick, where it asks customers if the address they’ve added is a home address or a work address. If it’s a work address, they will deliver the product only on working days during standard working hours. This reduces the possibility of returns or of the recipient not being available.

Failed checkouts also present opportunities for businesses to win customers over. If a customer does all the hard work from research to consideration, adds the product to cart, but does not end up buying it, you can send a push notification to this customer and subtly ask them if they ran into any trouble while making the purchase. Or, if you notice a customer has looked at a product that is out of stock, you can notify them when it’s back in stock. This will give customers an impression that you genuinely care, and chances are they might just come back to your store and pick up from where they left off. Bonobos sent me this cool email when I left a purchase mid-way and also threw in a discount coupon.

Stage 4: Delivery

This stage kicks in when the customer has successfully placed an order and is waiting for the product to arrive.

After every purchase, it is at the back of the customer’s mind that a product is due to arrive. It’s best if the company sends regular order updates to keep them in the loop. Most E-commerce companies integrate order tracking features within their website which give customers real-time updates about the status of their orders. These are combined with regular SMS and email alerts. Amazon, for example, sends an email/SMS when an order is placed, when it is dispatched and when it is out for delivery.

Once the product is out for delivery, it’ll help customers if they are able to reach out to the delivery agent directly if there’s any last minute change in plans. An SMS with the agent’s name and contact number will ensure any miscommunication between the customer and the agent is avoided. If you’re selling a large product that requires installation like a TV or a refrigerator, you can provide customers the option to schedule the delivery at a date of their preference.

As can be seen from the above examples, this stage is all about setting the right expectations among customers. Therefore, it goes without saying that if there are any unexpected delays, you need to notify your customers and give them an accurate new date on when they can expect the order to reach them. Here’s an example of Flipkart doing just that.

It’ll also help if you can make it easy for customers to reach out to your support reps in case of order issues/delays. A chatbot that pops up on your website that gives customers preset options on what they can expect help with is a nice and easy way to extend a hand to a troubled customer.

Stage 5: Post-purchase

Okay, so a customer has purchased a product from your website and has successfully received it. You must be wondering what next? Customers by themselves will rarely reach out to you to share their experience unless it was very good or very bad. But there are so many valuable insights you can get from their inputs that will help you improve in the future.

So, it’s important to reach out to customers and try and get their feedback. Feedback need not necessarily be product reviews. You can also ask customers for feedback on their shopping and delivery experience, refund issues, conversation with a support rep etc. The valuable information they provide will give you a clearer picture of what some of the prevalent customer pain points are. Here’s Nest sending a simple, but well thought out email that asks customers to take a survey.

Once a customer is a regular buyer on your website, you can show them some extra love. You can give them early-bird access to exclusive sales, gift cards, cashback offers, and more. Customers will appreciate the goodies and the gratitude and will help spread positivity about your brand.

What you can learn from these examples

94% of customers do not call support when they have an issue.

Understanding Customers – Ruby Newell-Legner

This shows that it’s important to proactively reach out to the customer at the right time, and make sure their whole purchase journey is as smooth as possible. E-commerce companies have understood this underlying problem and have evolved their buying process in this way.

You can similarly anticipate what your customers are looking for, chart their purchase journey and look to assist them at every step of the purchase cycle. A good customer support software will help you achieve this, and we have some nifty updates in the E-commerce space coming up very soon!

So, what are some of the things you do as an E-commerce business to ensure a smooth shopping experience for your customers? Do you have any stories of customer success you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.