In the world of online business, where companies number in the millions and it’s easy to get lost in the fog of hundreds of competitors’ websites, one of the best ways to make your ecommerce brand stand out is to offer a better customer experience than anything else.
An ecommerce customer experience is how easy it is to find and purchase things on your website. It’s how helpful and friendly you are when they have questions or problems with what they bought. It creates a sense of trust and pleasantness of use such that the customer wants to shop again.
Your website is the online equivalent of a physical store. It’s the first thing an online customer will interact with, the thing they share with friends and family, and contains the experience they will remember you by. It should be easy to navigate, visually appealing, and help users quickly to find what they’re looking for.
In this guide, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive overview of how to maximize the customer experience in your ecommerce store. We’ll start by looking at understanding your customers, and then creating an ecommerce customer journey.
We’ll then move on to designing a great website, discuss how to provide the best customer service, consider how best to integrate technology into your offerings, and finally, how to measure and improve the experience. Let’s get cracking.
Understanding Your Customers
Understanding your customers means knowing what they need and want, why they purchase from you, and being able to anticipate their needs.
There are various ways an ecommerce business can do this, including both subjective methods based on your intuition and objective ones based on analysis of customers of similar ecommerce sites.
Only once you’ve established who you’re selling to can you properly design the ecommerce strategy or ecommerce experience that’ll perform best (we could call this customer experience management). Let’s take a look at a few initiatives for understanding your customers.
Customer Behavior Analysis
Your internal analytics will provide you with all sorts of insights, such as what pages customers visit most, what products they purchase regularly, and how often they return and make repeat purchases. You can also reach out to customers for feedback on their experience.
When you know what they’re doing, building a platform that’s customer-centric and subtly but effectively persuades them to make good purchasing decisions becomes much simpler.
Creating Buyer Personas
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of who your customer is based on market research and other data. It includes details such as demographics, goals and values, purchase behavior, pain points, etc.
Here’s an example of a buyer persona for an ecommerce store that sells aerial photography fine art prints:
Middle-aged professional, income in the range of $75,000 – $125,000 per year. Bachelor’s or master’s degree. Has an appreciation for art and is familiar with the overall quality associated with the mediums used in aerial photography. May own a home or condo and is interested in decorating it in tasteful, modern ways. They purchase high-quality items that can be admired by anyone who visits their home.
Customer feedback is invaluable, and you should be gathering it actively. Do it through surveys or customer service interactions, but also by monitoring reviews of your products on social media, in forums, etc.
You’ll get direct insights into what customers think of your experience and the opportunity to respond quickly to issues or complaints.
Conduct User Testing
This can be done in person or remotely with the help of a user-testing tool. User testing involves showing potential customers prototype versions of your website (product pages, shopping cart page, checkout process, post-purchase, cart abandonment event, etc.) and having them navigate it on their own, then providing feedback about their purchase experience.
You’ll be surprised at how your website is used compared to the journey you had in mind during design.
Creating an Ecommerce Customer Journey
An ecommerce customer journey is the series of steps a customer takes when interacting with your brand online. It necessarily includes all the touchpoints a customer has with your store during their purchase experience.
Understand this customer journey, and you can craft a better ecommerce experience and, in turn, increase sales. All of the stages of this lifecycle we’ll discuss below are opportunities for you to put customer data to good use to positively influence their decisions.
The awareness stage of the journey is where customers are first exposed to your brand. They may have seen an advertisement that caught their attention or heard about you from a friend. They then start to research your company and products, look at reviews, and decide whether or not to purchase.
In the consideration phase, customers have already decided that they are interested in your online business. They will now compare you to the competition, look for discounts or coupons, and potentially return to their research from the awareness phase.
They’ll enter your store and interact with some of the early-stage aspects of your online store: landing pages, product pages, ‘About Us’ pages, delivery options, etc.
The customer has decided to purchase. This is where understanding customer preferences is crucial, and you have the best chance of influencing purchasing decisions and what’s in their shopping cart. During this stage, they may also see the cart abandonment pages – should they choose not to complete the sale.
During the post-purchase user experience stage, customers continue to interact. This is an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction by providing excellent customer support, relevant product recommendations, discounts for returning customers, and more.
Customers will experience the checkout process and begin receiving your post-purchase marketing emails.
Designing an Ecommerce Website for Great Customer Experience
A great ecommerce website is not entirely subjective – certain objective design elements can be implemented to ensure an optimal customer experience. Again: your website is where almost all of the shopping experience is done, so it should take up the majority of your customer experience strategy.
Let’s discuss some of the key design considerations for your website. These will help you engage with more potential customers, increase customer retention (i.e., decrease churn), and turn them into loyal customers.
Clear navigation means that customers should be able to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily. The website should be intuitive and consistent throughout all pages.
This includes having a clear hierarchy of product categories and labels and optimizing the search function. A chatbot is a great way to help lost or aimless customers find what they need.
Consistent branding ensures customers have a unified experience as they move through your website and improves the likelihood of brand loyalty. This includes ensuring all visual elements, such as logos, graphics, and typography, are consistent and recognizable throughout the customer journey.
Simple and Clean Layout
Your website should have a simple, clean layout, free of distractions and clutter. This includes having an uncluttered visual design that guides the customer through the purchase process.
Product pages should be short and include all pricing info, images, or videos to back up product descriptions.
Easy Checkout Process
Your checkout process should be as simple and seamless as possible – meaning no unnecessary steps or lengthy forms. Provide multiple payment options – PayPal, crypto, credit card, Klarna, etc. – to cater to the widest possible gamut of customers and maintain conversion rates.
For post-purchase, automation can go a long way. Automate post-purchase emails, shipping SMSs, etc.
Customer Reviews and Ratings
Social proof is a massive contributor to converting visitors into customers. Include customer testimonials throughout the site, on landing pages, product pages, and the checkout page – wherever you need to help drive sales, reduce cart abandonment, or ratchet up customer loyalty.
Providing Excellent Customer Service
You know that stonewalled feeling you get when a huge service provider puts you on hold or has you jump through hoops for a simple request? That’s poor customer service, and your ecommerce store should do its best to avoid that type of customer mistreatment.
Proactive customer service is the type you should strive to offer. Proactive means you anticipate what customers need and offer solutions before they have to ask for it.
This could be informing customers about deals, customer loyalty programs, connecting them with FAQ pages, or other ways of enhancing the online shopping experience. Let’s look at four elements you should consider when building an excellent customer service offering.
Prompt Response Time
You wouldn’t like to be kept waiting, so don’t make your customers wait. Aim to answer customer inquiries within 24 hours (but also as close to real-time as possible) and provide helpful solutions.
You could outsource your customer service department or integrate a chatbot into your website.
Use a CRM system to identify customers, anticipate their needs, and tailor your services towards them – this could be through product recommendations or discounts for returning customers.
Something as small as using someone’s name in any correspondence you have with them goes a long way. High-quality communications that don’t feel transactional mean you’ll build trust with your customers, making them more likely to buy again.
Equip your staff to be able to provide expert-level support. That means they should have an in-depth understanding of your products and be able to answer any questions about them. If you don’t have the resources, use online communities and forums or provide easy access to FAQs.
Handpick these people to ensure they will do justice to your digital experience – they are the face of your business, after all.
Your customer service should go beyond just responding to inquiries. Proactively engage with new customers and existing ones by sending out promotional emails, newsletters, and other types of content to keep them informed about what’s happening in your business. Host events or create loyalty programs so customers feel valued and appreciated for their patronage.
Leveraging Technology for a Better Customer Experience
If providing great customer support is a surefire to differentiate yourself from competitors, then using technology will help to set you apart even further. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Thousands of companies exist and thrive literally to take care of the problems you’ll encounter in trying to run your own online store.
Here are five areas where you could start using technology in your support offering.
Improving communication could involve making it faster, optimizing for resolution, using chatbots (even artificial intelligence), and various other types of automation. Integrate any technology you use here with the rest of your stack; for example, your customer relations management (CRM) system.
Provide Self-Service Options
This could be done through a knowledge base (i.e., a wiki) with FAQs and other helpful content like tutorials and user manuals. Customers expect personalized experiences, so integration with CRM is also important here.
A chatbot is a good way to provide self-service and alleviate some of the strain on your customer support team.
Enhance Mobile Experience
Your website MUST look good on mobile devices. Mobile customers are still customers, and these days make up over 50% of visitors. Use responsive design for your website and optimize your checkout process with technology like Apple Pay or Google Pay so it integrates with the user’s handset.
Automate as much as you can in the background, like shipping confirmations, order status updates, payment reminders, etc., using technology like robotic process automation (RPA). This will save your staff time and most likely get the communications to the customers faster.
Provide Omnichannel Experience
Having an omnichannel presence – meaning support is available across multiple channels, social media, email, SMS, and otherwise – helps to put the customer’s mind at ease.
Measuring and Improving Customer Experience
How could you know if the customer experience (CX) you’re offering is actually any good? As with all things digital and online, you need to test, measure, and improve.
A good customer experience will result from a trial-and-error approach where you’ve collected feedback throughout the online shopping experience and fixed all the areas people complained about or struggled with. Here’s a playbook for the steps you should take to implement this iterative process.
Define Key Metrics
Metrics are a way of measuring success or failure. Some examples include customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, net promoter score (NPS), and the number of repeat customers you have. You need these numeric values to quantify customer experience improvements in order to track progress over time.
Start with surveys and focus on collecting feedback from customers who have purchased your products. Ask them what they think of the online shopping experience, their satisfaction level, and other factors that could influence CX.
Once you have the data, analyze it to identify improvement areas. Depending on the volume of data, you may need an analyst to do this.
You’re looking for things like quickly making sure customers find what they’re looking for on your website or improving customer service response times.
Once you know where improvement is needed, take action to address any issues. This could involve updating your website design, integrating new technologies, or refining the customer service approach.
Finally, empower your employees to be able to take action. Give them the tools and resources they need to address customer inquiries quickly and effectively. Educate them on the value of split testing (a.k.a. A/B testing) and encourage them to integrate it into their daily workflows.
There we go – customer service isn’t all that complex, right? It just takes some diligence and ensuring your staff are equipped in the best way possible to help customers. Here are the key takeaways:
- You need to understand your customers before you can provide appropriate support.
- You should create an ecommerce customer service journey including all the possible paths someone may take through your offering.
- Your ecommerce website needs to be up there with the best of them (think Amazon, Zappos, etc.) – the customers’ expectations are high online, especially post-pandemic with all the increased online shoppers.
- Then you should actually provide great, personalized, and swift customer support – as interactive as if it were in-store.
- Make sure you use technology wherever possible – improving the experience for you and the customer – more on this below.
- Finally, you’ll need to get feedback to determine whether your customer support is actually as good as anticipated.
One area you can employ technology is the post-purchase stage. Rich Returns is a Shopify-specific set of ecommerce tools for improving the post-purchase experience. Rich Returns automates the returns process, helps encourage customers to do exchanges rather than returns, and generally improves the post-purchase CX to boost customer loyalty and retention. Check out Rich Returns here.