Build online stores with good service as a foundation and buyers will come

Customer service and user experience are two of the most important factors when building out an online store. So say participants in the Online Retail in South Africa 2021 study conducted by World Wide Worx with support from Mastercard and Standard Bank.

This study took place over two phases. The first phase was done during the first half of 2021 and the results revealed that online retail was growing quickly in the face of the pandemic.

The second phase of the study is now complete and World Wide Worx has shared some headline findings with us that examine the factors that lead to success, the challenges retailers face as well as the technology that is being employed. Something of note is that this study took place over the festive shopping period and as such it provides insight into how retailers have evolved over the years.

One thing is clear, the last two months of the year are incredibly important for retailers. That having been said, the period around Christmas is the most important for 73 percent of retailers who participated in the study while only 60 percent said Black Friday was important to their sales. Other big days such as Valentine’s Day and Mothers day are only seen as important retail days by a quarter of respondents while Back-to-school is only important to about 25 percent of retailers.

As regards growth, 90 percent of respondents said that they were optimistic about growth over the next five years with some retailers expecting growth as high as 60 percent compared to last year.

However, in order for this growth to be achieved, retailers need to address customer service and user experience in their platforms. While the respondents know that customer service and user experience are important (98 percent and 90 percent of respondents ranking it as most important respectively) we have to ask, why are those learnings not being applied in practice?

We have lamented our customer service experiences at length with regards to retail and the service sector. Many businesses make use of poorly crafted chatbots to handle service requests that end up being more of a frustration than a help. Automation is a fabulous marketing term but if that automated system fails and customers have to jump through hoops to get a request attended to, the system has frankly, failed. And it’s not just us that have this opinion, shoppers will simply abandon a cart if the retailer gives them an awful experience.

“Consumers want frictionless, convenient checkout regardless of whether they check out online or on mobile,” explains country manager for Mastercard in South Africa, Gabriël Swanepoel.

“When you consider cart abandonment rates nearing 70%, due to security concerns or often complicated checkout processes, the concept of frictionless quickly moves from a nice idea to a must-have. If friction can be removed, it should be removed,” the manager adds.

What seems even more bizarre is how the use of AI in retail is not expected to increase by all that much in 2022. Make no mistake, we think that AI has its purpose but that purpose is not customer service unless the system is well crafted and designed to respond to even the most obscure of requests.

To our mind the big take away from this study is that if you are a retailer operating digitally, don’t think that every new technology needs implementation on your platform. Remember the push to incorporate the ability to pay for goods and services with cryptocurrency? Well, only three percent of retailers surveyed said they accept cryptocurrency payments.

Take time to consider what customers need and what will bring them back to your store. All it takes is one bad experience to push a customer away and if you lose them, best of luck convincing them you’ve changed.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


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