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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Tips for buffing up your online performance

Nicole Larrauri of EGC Group says it's important

Nicole Larrauri of EGC Group says it's important to have a flexible return policy. Credit: David L. Pokress

The holidays can make or break a business depending upon the customer experience.

Online retailers have room for improvement considering 60% of online shoppers in the United States said they are dissatisfied with their holiday shopping experiences, according to a recent Pitney Bowes study.

This can be a wake-up call considering nearly nine out of 10 consumers said they would make a complaint or take an action that could hurt a brand’s reputation and bottom line after a bad post-purchase experience.

“The holidays are critical for brands and retailers to give consumers a great experience,” said Lila Snyder, president of commerce services at Stamford-based Pitney Bowes, a global technology company. “A disappointed holiday shopper is unlikely to come back again.”

Among customers' top pain points were delayed shipments, shipping costs and inaccurate tracking, according to the study.

While the study gauged customer’s shopping experience from last holiday season, Snyder said each year the results show dissatisfaction consistently growing. The 60% dissatisfaction reported was an all-time high and nearly double the number from four years ago, she said.

Keeping that in mind going into this holiday season, online retailers of all sizes have an opportunity to improve.

Still, free shipping can be a sore spot for some smaller retailers, who have seen shipping costs growing each year. But customers expect it so, if possible, smaller retailers should figure out how to offer free shipping even if it means incorporating it into the product price or opting for a lower-cost delivery option that might take longer, Snyder said.

Eighty-percent of consumers surveyed wanted free over fast shipping so it may be something to consider even if just for the holidays.

“While some retailers may be unable to offer free shipping all year-round, we see a lot of retailers offering free shipping as a sales strategy specifically for the holiday sales period to meet consumer expectations and compete with other brands,” said Solmaz Shahalizadeh, vice president of data science and engineering at Ottawa-based Shopify, a global commerce company with over 1 million merchants on its platform.

According to a survey by Shopify, 84% of U.S. consumers were expecting free shipping for their Black Friday and Cyber Monday purchases, she said.

Karen Cardoso, owner and designer of Lynbrook-based Bolsa Nova Handbags, which sells leather handbags and shoulder straps online (www.bolsanovahandbags.com) and in boutiques, says not offering free shipping to her online customers is out of the question.

“I think it’s necessary,” she says. “I think they just expect it.”

Cardoso is also offering free returns/exchanges this holiday season, noting she gets very few returns and exchanges so she doesn't see it as a big burden.

It’s a smart perk to offer considering the Pitney Bowes survey found that 70% of online shoppers hate paying for return shipping.

Nicole Larrauri, president of EGC Group, a marketing and digital services firm in Melville and Manhattan, agreed, noting it’s key to have flexible return policies, offering return labels, etc.

She also finds having a live chat feature on a website is appreciated by customers.

Companies like Shopify offer a live chat option and others like Avaamo can customize a chat function for a merchant's website, she said.

Smaller companies can also consider embedding a Facebook messenger link on their website so customers can communicate with them real-time, Larrauri said.

Also critical is a seamless mobile experience, she said.

“The most important thing is mobile first when your reviewing your website,” she says. “A proper mobile experience has very few clicks to the path to purchase.”

That’s important considering that last year, 66% of sales made during Black Friday and Cyber Monday from Shopify merchants were on mobile devices

Beyond that, consider how you can make the customer experience stand out.

“Whether it’s customizing your online storefront to surface recommended products or offering extra discounts to loyal customers," Shahalizadeh said, "a personalized shopping experience will set retailers apart and ensure customers keep coming back.” 

Fast Fact

Want to make your customer's lives easier? Consider: 72% of online shoppers prefer that retailers include preprinted return labels in the shipped package.

Source: Pitney Bowes Online Shopping Study 2019

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