Maximizing Customer Experience to Win the Holiday Season

Let’s face it, the holiday experience has changed in 2020. Time with family and friends will likely be limited to non-existent, many events that help signal the holiday spirit are gone or changed and shopping – let’s not forget that shopping for the season is also going to be quite different.

For most, the holiday season is a time of cheer and hope providing time with loved ones, and kinder, gentler spirit towards each other and then the renewal of the new year. Given our starting point, it should be no surprise that we are all craving holiday experiences that replicate, if not elevate, in comparison to memories of years past. Much of this involves the retail environment from the decorations to the experience and the sales. Retailers who recognize this and prepare to provide a little something special, a reason to come into the store or to visit their website, will see their efforts returned. For in-store this will have to be balanced with safety.

While spending is still a concern for most of us this season, according to a recent ENGINE survey, nearly half of US consumers are willing to stretch their budget to find the perfect gift for friends and loved ones. That perfect gift may be in a specialty shop, a big box store, on an obscure website or one search away on Amazon. With so many outlets to choose from and a large emphasis on price, retailers must be cognizant of their customers’ end-to-end experience to capitalize on their share of seasonal spend. Often we see lists of perfect gifts geared to delight the recipient as being something wanted or useful, however this year, we see in our ENGINE survey that most will be gift giving to make the recipient feel loved – a shift due to the vast amount of separation and isolation plaguing us today. The perfect gift is being defined differently. How can you, as a retailer help?

 

How does a retailer bring the holiday shopping experience into the consumer’s home via their connected device?

First, Minimize Frustration by Meeting Functional Expectations

While retailers cannot control for every nuance of a customer’s complete online shopping journey, it is critical that their site provides a simple, engaging interface and user experience. Customers need to feel a sense of security, confidence and trust that their order will be processed in a timely manner, shipped and received within the promised timeframe, arrive as expected (looks like the picture they saw online), was worth the amount they paid and that the return/exchange process (should there be an issue) is hassle free.

Understanding your customer’s experience navigating and interacting with your site is essential. Website navigation must be intuitive, simple, fast and possible (i.e. the site must be up and functioning properly). Despite understanding these table stakes of online shopping, many online experiences are less than ideal. Even more troubling is that many merchants do not fully appreciate the extent to which their site stands up to expectations.

How easy is it for your customers to access previously created accounts during their interaction with your site? Imagine a returning customer has been shopping on your site for about 30 minutes. They have carefully selected the perfect items for their friends and family after combing through numerous options. Happy with their purchase, it is time to check-out. As a loyal customer, they sign-in to their account to take advantage of membership rewards. Then, as their account authenticates, something awful happens, all the items in their cart disappear. Frustrated, the customer has two options, try to recreate their cart from the beginning or abandon the purchase entirely.

This failure to make the sign-in process simple and seamless will harm customer loyalty and sales. Even if the customer is willing to start over, they may not be able to get every item they originally wanted due to real-time inventory changes. They may not fully remember all the items that they wanted to buy or have second thoughts about the total amount of money they were willing to spend with you given the negative emotion they are feeling as they recreate their shopping cart. Long reaching effects are also at play, the customer’s overall trust in your site has been tainted and their holiday shopping cheer diminished.

Overall site bandwidth and uptime reliability is another critical component of winning the holiday season. Customers who experience long load times or errors when trying to access your site will likely attempt to reload your page once or twice but then become impatient and move along to another site. In advance of higher than typical traffic volume, it is key to understand whether your site has the necessary bandwidth to support expected and unexpected traffic.

Offer real-time assistance and make sure it is user friendly. Consumers are becoming increasingly more comfortable making major purchases online. The convenience of having an item delivered to your doorstep along with the ability to avoid crowds and feel less pressured to make a purchase decision in the moment can take a great deal of anxiety out of shopping. A short-coming, however, exists in the inability to experience the product in a more tangible sense or “kick the tires” so to speak. To help your customers feel confident in their purchase it is critical to allow them access to interactive information. Some sites utilize chat bots to triage customer questions, others offer a live human chat, a hybrid approach or simply an FAQ link. Depending on the types of products you are selling, a simple FAQ may satisfy your would-be customer queries. However, if you are selling something more complex or with multiple features (e.g. electronics or technology related items) your organization should identify potential stumbling blocks along the customer’s path to purchase that would be alleviated with access to a human support representative.

 

Then comes the setting scene…

Creating Unique Personalized Experiences to Drive Traffic

In an arena that has been largely ruled by price, E-commerce retailers are getting creative to drive traffic to their sites. With the capability to shop multiple sites simultaneously in search of the best deal, retailers are looking for ways to engage shoppers and increase the odds of a purchase even if they are not the lowest cost option.

Sam’s Club is a great example this holiday season. The brand has invoked nostalgia from the highly familiar movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The retailer has recreated the Griswold’s home and allows shoppers to click on items throughout the house for purchase. While Sam’s is known for being price competitive, shoppers may be willing to pay a bit more or avoid trying to make a price comparison altogether to reward the brand for the positive emotional experience they had while shopping online.

With all the effort that is put into planning and creating an engaging customer experience, this season, online retailers must ensure that the operational experience meets if not exceeds expectations. ENGINE recommends giving your site a check-up to make sure everything is running as expected prior to an uptick in traffic. And most importantly, help people find the gifts that can bridge the lack of connection many of us are feeling particularly at the holidays. Consumers want to feel inspired and not just to get the gift that will get the most use in 2021 but the one that will give the most heart. That may be how retailers move online shopping from being more about price to an experience fitting of the holiday season.

Want to find out how ENGINE can help optimize your website performance and create a more engaging experience through innovative design? Contact us now!

 

Written by Nicole Garberg, VP, and Lisa Marie Fortier, SVP, at ENGINE Insights.