As e-commerce sales grow, retailers are realizing the importance of creating a positive – and enticing – experience for the consumer, which includes wooing shoppers with free shipping as well as offering special deals aplenty.

But often the honeymoon is cut short when consumer expectations are not met. Amit Sharma, founder and chief executive officer of post-purchase experience platform provider Narvar, said “there’s a lot of love up until the moment a consumer hits the ‘buy’ button.” Indeed, from a branding and customer service “tone” perspective, online shoppers are often taken after clicking the “buy” button to static and poorly curated pages with an order confirmation number and little else.

Here, Sharma, a former executive at Apple Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., discusses how the online experience is changing and what retailers need to do to ensure it’s optimal for consumers.

WWD: You once described two pivotal moments in the history of modern commerce as the rollout of Amazon Prime and the launch of the iPhone. Can you explain why these are so important in the evolution of e-commerce?

Amit Sharma: Supply chain has traditionally always been considered a back-office function, a cost center that is far removed from customer experience. However, when Amazon Prime launched in 2005 with a goal to increase convenience for its customers, the supply chain function became customer-centric. Fast shipping and clear delivery expectations soon became an everyday experience for shoppers, a first in e-commerce history. As Amazon continued to innovate and add value to the program, Prime members became more engaged, passionate and loyal customers, resulting in significant revenue growth for Amazon.

The launch of the iPhone redefined the way we experience digital goods and content. For the first time, consumers had complete visibility and control over how, when and where they wanted to consume media. This phenomenon had a halo effect on what customers expect not only when consuming content, but also when shopping for physical goods. In addition to expecting a rich and engaging e-commerce experience, shoppers are increasingly demanding more visibility around their orders and flexibility over their delivery methods.

WWD: What does it mean to have a “seamless shopping experience” in the customer’s journey?

A.S.: A “seamless shopping experience” is a consistent and engaging experience every step of the way in a customer’s journey, starting from the home page and bookending on delivery.

Digital commerce has created a “customer experience gap” where retailers abandon their customers during the critical time after a purchase is made and before it’s delivered. Closing this gap and creating a seamless shopping experience is the next competitive battleground for retailers.

Today, Amazon’s “Fast and Free” model is no longer enough. Customers expect the experience after they click “buy” to be personalized, persistent and accurate. They would like to know when their package has shipped, where it is along the way and precisely when it will arrive. Retailers must make the post-purchase process an extension of the brand experience in order to build a loyal customer base that will keep coming back again and again.

WWD: In that journey, where are some of the friction points? How are retailers failing their customers?

A.S.: In the world of online retail, brands spend a lot of time and effort engaging their customers up until they click “buy.” After the buy button, the romance is gone, replaced with a maze of customer service phone trees, shipping headaches and the occasional ugly, grey email. Successful retailers are those that focus on the supply chain as a place to engage customers rather than as a backend cost center.

In the insatiable customer economy, a single moment of dissatisfaction is a customer lost. Customers are quick to abandon brands if their experience is less than perfect, and brands who go MIA after customers click “buy” will surely lose those customers. And even though it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one satisfied, retailers are continuing to focus on acquiring customers rather than retaining them. If retailers switch gears to focus on engaging with customers thoughtfully during the post-purchase experience, the benefits are boundless. It is becoming increasingly important for logistics and marketing to work together to extend the brand experience after the purchase.

WWD: What typically occurs when a “shopper” is converted to a “buyer” when they hit the “buy” button?

A.S.: When a shopper clicks “buy,” the relationship between the retailer and consumer changes. Unlike “shoppers,” who consider communication from the retailer as somewhat intrusive, “buyers” expect the retailer to engage with them until the moment they open their package. Customers want updates and visibility into their orders and expect retailers to deliver a seamless shopping experience.

Most retailers go silent after a shopper clicks “buy” — in fact, only 16 percent of companies are focused on customer retention — but this is the moment that retailers need to capitalize on in order to retain their customers. Retailers should provide a joyful and continuous branded experience throughout the entire journey from purchase to delivery in order to build trust and loyalty.

WWD: How does your company improve the post-purchase part of the consumer’s shopping journey?

A.S.: From tracking to analytics, Narvar’s post-purchase platform is designed to help retailers deliver a customer experience after they click “buy.”

With Narvar’s tracking feature, retailers give customers precise, automatic updates for their orders, along with custom SMS alerts and helpful FAQs, through a beautifully designed, branded platform that works across all devices.

Narvar Returns transforms the traditional, complicated returns process into a simple, digital experience. The returns process on our platform is clear and transparent, as well as convenient for the customer. And, like tracking, the returns experience integrates seamlessly into the customer’s interactions with the brand.

WWD: What are the benefits for retailers when the post-purchase part of the shopping journey is personalized for consumers?

A.S.: We believe taking care of shoppers after they make a purchase is how brands can build trust and create lifelong customers. A personalized shopping journey provides a consistent brand experience through fulfillment and returns and creates new click-through channels. By giving customers more visibility and control at every step of the journey, call center volume goes down and customer satisfaction increases.

Retailers can also use this opportunity to collect insights into these previously invisible touch-points, allowing them to increase supply chain efficiencies and serve their customers like never before. The benefit is boundless.

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