New website users are five to seven times more likely than repeat customers to get declined. And one false decline often ends the shopper's relationship with the retailer.

Angela Whiteford

Angela Whiteford, chief marketing officer at Forter

FOMO—the fear of missing out. The explosion of social media in the early 2010s made the term a staple in pop culture vocabularies. Lesser known, FOMO dates to 2000 when marketing strategist Dan Herman published the first academic paper on the concept, exploring how brands engage with consumers.

Fast forward to 2021 and the fear of missing out has come full circle with a new identity for online merchants: NUMO—new user missed opportunity.

The origin of NUMO

The global COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the retail landscape and consumer behaviors. A pivot to digital channels has brought more shoppers online than ever before, with 2020 ecommerce sales growing 32.4% YoY in the U.S. alone.

While overall ecommerce growth helps merchants offset brick and mortar losses with online gains, the greatest opportunity comes from converting new online shoppers. Research shows that the volume of new online users has grown 200% since pre-COVID levels.

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Turning these new users into repeat buyers presents tremendous potential customer lifetime value for merchants. The challenge is new users are five to seven times more likely than repeat customers to get declined. And one false decline often ends the relationship. 40% of rejected users won’t try on that merchant’s site again—NUMO!

Why the declines?

Merchants are in a constant balancing act to maximize conversion rates and provide a seamless customer experience while accurately identifying and blocking fraud. Merchants lose their footing when they lack data on the digital identity involved in the transaction process. This causes merchants relying on manual reviews or rules-based systems for fraud prevention to flag unfamiliar activity as suspicious, resulting in increased friction and falsely declining potentially legitimate shoppers.

Merchants typically lack the following data, resulting in higher rates of false declines of new online shoppers:

  • Purchasing behavior and history (purchasing patterns, value spent, financial instruments, etc.).
  • In-store interactions including returns or item exchanges, coupon usage, loyalty or reward point memberships, and personalization of interactions.
  • Behaviors, past actions, and connected identities from other ecommerce sites.

Due to heightened consumer expectations, it’s not just false declines that send new users to competing offerings. Today’s customer expects a “one-click” real-time experience that allows them to breeze through the purchasing process. Retailers commonly ask new shoppers to provide more personal information than is required, increasing friction and causing concern over sharing their details with a retailer. This friction causes higher rates of cart abandonment and increases the likelihood of NUMO.

Just how much is being lost?

According to Forter’s research, merchants lose up to 75 times more revenue to false declines than they do to fraud—a staggering figure. In analyzing the current behavior of close to a billion unique global consumers and $200 billion in online transactions, NUMO costs merchants (annually in the following categories):

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  • Apparel and Accessories: $930 per customer.
  • Home and garden: $798 per customer.
  • Food and Beverage: $1,062 per customer.
  • Beauty and Health: $243 per customer.

To put this in perspective with illustrative examples (not industry averages) on a grander scale, NUMO is causing some of the merchants in different industries to:

  • Apparel and accessories: decline revenue of $8.3 million annually; miss lifetime revenue of $150.4 million.
  • Home and garden: decline revenue of $17.6 million annually. Retailers miss out on lifetime revenue of $159 million.
  • Food and Beverage: decline revenue of $2.5 million annually; miss lifetime revenue of $76.1 million.
  • Beauty and health: decline revenue of $10.7 million annually; miss lifetime revenue of $161.3 million.

Avoiding NUMO

A shift in both philosophy and technology is required to avoid NUMO. As opposed to viewing fraud prevention through the lens of risk-aversion, merchants should approach risk management from the perspective of business enablement to improve bottom lines. Merchants must prioritize approval rates, the shopping experience, and customer lifetime value above all else while accurately identifying and blocking fraud.

To do so, merchants require a solution to glean insights from a robust global network rather than rely on their data alone.

The transaction process involves numerous parties (merchants, banks, payment providers) and access to knowledge and insights from hundreds of merchants, millions of consumers, and the wider ecommerce ecosystem provides a more accurate view of legitimate consumer behaviors and interactions across the buying journey. This, combined with automated solutions that offer real-time decisions, allows merchants to trust the data to reduce customer friction and offer competitive and seamless customer offerings such as curbside pickup, BORIS (buy online, return in-store) and next-day shipping.

Ultimately, this more robust solution and approach limits false declines and avoids new user missed opportunities, enabling merchants to capitalize on their business growth potential.

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Forter provides fraud-prevention technology to online retailers.

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