Retailers have many opportunities to elevate the customer experience and it starts with delivery, while product assortment is still the life blood of shopping.

As 2019 is now in the history books, it’s an important time to analyze the mindset of the shopper and think about how to move ahead armed with that knowledge. This year, Digital Commerce 360 decided to take a look at both quantitative and qualitative aspects, surveying shoppers on holiday shopping experiences and their wishlists for 2020. Having been in the industry for 30-plus years, the numbers, while interesting don’t always shed light about what is really happening behind the scenes. I have learned that the open-ended questions provide more food-for-thought and thus serve as the inspiration for this column.

First off, it was important to understand how shoppers believed their behavior changed in 2019.

Price remains the driver behind product selection and getting shoppers to pay full price becomes increasingly difficult. 42% of online shoppers purchase based on the lowest price and unfortunately 24% never pay full price. Free shipping is a must for many online shoppers forcing retailers to address this issue despite its implications on profitability. 23% only buy from retailers who offer free shipping. Amazon complicates matters further as Prime members receive free shipping. Thus, shoppers feel it is due from every retailer under all circumstances.

Expectations for faster deliveries is ratcheted up and only likely to escalate in the coming year. Amazon once again took the lead here, while other big-box retailers like Target and The Home Depot have followed suit with same-day delivery options, often free with low threshold purchases.

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Physical stores are challenged to capture traffic, which often results in sales declines. 39% of consumers shop less in physical stores. Omnichannel, of course, has its place, as 14% often purchase online using buy online for pick up in store. This fact alone should give all store-based retailers pause as they look for every means possible to drive store visits.

Retailer concentration is problematic, as 30% of shoppers focus their attention on a handful of key players. Along that same vein, buying mostly from Amazon is cited by 29% of shoppers while 26% indicated they mainly use Amazon for search purposes.

The Shoppers’ 2020 wish list

Retailers have many opportunities to elevate the customer experience and it starts with delivery. 39% of online shoppers want retailers to have faster delivery and it is the No. 1 reason they would buy more online. These insights demand that retailers must focus on logistics to meet the needs of shoppers and to maintain parity with top sellers.

The notion of fast applies to more than deliveries. Streamlining the experience for efficiency and ease of use will be integral to growth as the following findings of online shopper “wants” suggest:

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  • 24% want more efficient checkouts
  • 21% want improved search results
  • 18% want easier mobile shopping
  • 20% want faster websites

An analysis of information requirements from products to categories will ensure optimized decision-making. 30% of online shoppers want better product imagery and information, and 18% of online shoppers further indicate they want better category education. That often comes from videos and guides and is especially relevant in information-intensive categories.

The research also reveals that 19% of online shoppers want improved customer service. This is lower than one might expect given its No. 2 ranking, based on shopper feedback from the worst retailer experiences.

On an entirely different note, privacy issues should be on the agenda as well, and retailers should revisit advertising given the growing concern among online shoppers. 39% of online shoppers want to see less tracking and targeting of their activities. This may be due to both privacy and user experiences as it’s overwhelming under the best of circumstances.

Shopper perspectives

It’s insightful to look at what mattered most to shoppers. This curiosity manifested itself into two questions, one on positive experiences and another on negative ones where retailers fell short of expectations. From a positive point-of-view, we broke out the reasons that were noted in their best shopping experiences comparing Amazon to all others given that they represented 63% of responses. In some instances, one sees overlap and for others, distinct aspects of Amazon’s shopping experience weighed heavily on the minds of shoppers.

The positives ranking:

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Amazon shopper insights

Amazon’s shoppers seemed to be less focused on prices as they were willing to sacrifice somewhat in the name of fast delivery and an efficient shopping experience, especially as shipping was free. Their shoppers live and die for speed as they seek an efficient checkout predicated on their one-click model. I know, in many instances, I don’t even feel like I’ve made a purchase. Another area where other retailers received greater kudos was in their customer service. Once again, Amazon customers may not be as focused on this aspect of their business, knowing their needs are more limited based on past experience, and their self-service mentality. Search at Amazon perhaps didn’t rank as high because of the overwhelming product assortment, resulting in lengthy search results that often make Amazon’s usability somewhat challenging.

Overall best shopping experiences

Products and assortment are still the life blood of shopping. Many cited the depth of assortment and always being able to find what they need. The best experiences have all of the fundamentals in place from speed of delivery to prices to free shipping and strong customer service. Ecommerce prides itself on being easy and fast and both make the top 10 cut. These areas may have always been part of shopping, but the web has certainly made their role more prominent for shoppers.

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Shopper dislikes pose problems for retailers

When delivery is not swift, it’s cited most as part of one’s least favorite or worst shopping experience. Customer service garners the No. 2 negative ranking as shoppers long remember these experiences; each seems personal, especially when problematic.

There were a number of others on the user experience front. Product representation was a catchall, particularly noted when imagery and information was inadequate or size details not forthcoming. Price is always a factor and, most often, it means shoppers perceived them as too high, inconsistent across channels or deceiving in the way they were presented. Site search was also called out; not being able to find products has long been a shopper frustration.

Returns have been an important, high-ranking factor for positives among Amazon shoppers given their easy and free factor coupled with local drop-off points. With this in mind, return policies and conveniences have higher expectations among online shoppers.

It is highly recommended that retailers focus on getting the fundamentals right. Fast is the operative word from delivery to the site experience. From search to checkout, making it easy for shoppers to transact is a requirement. On the front end coupled with delivery on the back end, both now appear to be non-negotiable. With Amazon lurking as a viable alternative for every order and positive sentiments difficult to change, diligence in execution of the user experience is demanded more than ever in 2020.

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