A focus on customer experience and user experience
can be transformative for retail,
helping to drive sales and customer loyalty
Jason Walsh & Ciaran Harris
First appeared 05 Cec 2021 in the Sunday Business Post
Any store owner can tell you that the customer experience is central to retail: pleasant, comfortable, well-stocked and helpful-staffed shops are places that people want to be in and, naturally, this means consumers are more likely to spend as well as to return.
With online retail an increasingly important part of the shopping experience, though, lessons learned on the shop floor are not always translated into online stores. And yet, customer experience is no less important online.
In fact, it may be more important: the occasional abandoned trolley can be seen in the aisles of a supermarket, but what goes unseen is the traffic jam of abandoned online shopping baskets. One 2021 survey found an abandonment rate of over 69 per cent across the e-commerce sector as a whole. Alarmingly, this rose to 85 per cent when it comes to mobile commerce.
Clearly, there is work to be done. Happily, it can be done, and retailers inherently understand the problem. Ciarán Harris, co-founder and director of user experience (UX) specialists Each&Other said that Irish retailers had a history of working hard to ensure customers were happy.
“I think user experience would not necessarily be a phrase that was familiar to the industry, but I think, in fact, it’s something that Irish retailers have been very good at in general,” he said.
Owners, managers and staff in the sector have an intrinsic understanding of what makes for a good customer experience, said Harris, so the next step is to build on this legacy of pleasing customers in-store in the move toward e-commerce and, increasingly, omnichannel retail.
This has obviously become a pressing issue in the past two years: “During the pandemic, retailers were encouraged to move online and customers were encouraged to shop online,” Harris said.
We have all experienced this, of course, but hard statistics are there to back it up. According to the European statistical agency Eurostat, 73 per cent of internet users in the EU shopped online in 2020.
In this, Ireland is no different from its peers: figures from the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that e-commerce grew by a staggering 159 per cent in 2020. Top bank JP Morgan, meanwhile, said that the Irish online shopping market is worth €7 billion and is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 8.6 per cent, driven by a young and tech-savvy population.
Harris said that Irish consumers were indeed tech-savvy. “You see it even in things like cashless payment, and the take-off of online payments with services like Stripe,” he said.
However, getting an online store open to the world is only part of the equation, as even tech savvy users demand a shopping experience that has been defined by the international online giants. In short, they want security and they want simplicity.
M-commerce, or mobile commerce, can be trickiest of all, as it is relatively new and there are natural constraints driven by the device.
As with stores, the experience and the demands of the consumer, can and do vary according to what they are buying and how much they are paying. Boutique purchases, then, demand a different experience from the sale of high-volume, low-margin items. This in itself presents an opportunity for retailers who are willing to look at their user experience.
“Grocery retailers do still need to drive quality, but there is a real opportunity in higher margin businesses,” Harris said.
Part of Each&Other’s research process involves not only monitoring user behaviour, but also speaking to them directly, something Harris said does not happen enough in e-commerce.
“It’s interesting, because talking with customers is something that retailers and retail employees do naturally, and it allows them to build a picture,” Harris said.
As we all know, though, when it comes to online, some businesses go to great lengths to avoid speaking to customers. This may cut costs, but it also represents a missed opportunity.
“However, once a business has started to speak and listen to its customers, we find they don’t stop,” said Harris.
For him, the point is that omnichannel retail is no longer a “nice to have”, nor can it be consigned to the filing cabinet of “future plans”.
“The future is already here, albeit in small doses,” he said.