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Chances are that you aren’t in the business of selling shoes, handbags, and clothing. So it may come as a surprise to you to discover that you’re competing with Zappos. Oh, and Amazon, too.

Whatever line of business or service you’re in, your customers will judge and compare the online usability (ease of web use/ page design/ search, etc) and website experience to the likes of Amazon and Zappos. The world’s best online retail sites have raised the baseline standard of what customers now expect in all their experiences – even ones that aren’t e-commerce.

Let’s dive into some examples.

1. Ease of use

You will be judged by ease of use, the number of clicks it takes to find something, the number of clicks it takes to check out and more. The average consumer online is alert to the difference between a site that is easy to use versus those that are so complex and clunky that it’s not worth the effort. Ultimately, the difference between those two websites is that the first one will encourage a customer to return for another purchase. The other will chase off the customer, never to return.

2. Speed

It’s disappointing for customers who like a company, but have an online experience that doesn’t live up to today’s standards of speed of service and online ease. Case in point, someone recently tried to send me an Aveda.com e-gift card and it turned into a frustrating experience. I should preface my story by noting that I love Aveda. I love what they are about, I love that they don’t test on animals – because that is hard to find in today’s skin care / beauty lines. And I buy mostly through their stores (despite my love of e-commerce).

The friend bought me the gift card over a weekend and told me to expect it to drop into my email inbox. But it didn’t arrive. So my friend sent me the purchase confirmation email she had received from Aveda. I searched my Junk folder. Still nothing, even a day later. So the following Monday morning, I called Aveda to find out why I hadn’t received my e-card. They explained that online gift card purchases made during weekends are held until Monday (what?) and that the person who bought me the e-card would have to call them (what?) and confirm their mailing address and then agree to the fact that I could only use the e-gift card on their website (what?).

Really? I was surprised. I had to ask the Aveda phone agent if this was “for real” that a company as large (and I assumed as savvy) as Aveda would have such hurdles. The agent seemed to think I was the crazy one. (Really? Compare the experience of purchasing an e-gift card on Amazon. It arrives instantly.  That’s the whole point of buying online gift cards.)

Speed is also related to how quickly your website can be navigated, how easy it is for a customer to search and find what they want. Keep that in mind when you revise and update your site.

Increased Expectations

The big superstar ecommerce companies (LL Bean, Lands End, Amazon, Zappos) have set the bar for customer expectations. Anything short of that standard becomes frustrating. I’m the first to admit that I expect an instant email purchase confirmation and I expect my order to move quickly into fulfillment / shipping. I’ve written a blog about how Naturalizer took two weeks from order date to receive the product it. It felt like an eternity and, as a result, I sadly won’t buy from them again.

This is not an isolated or outrageous expectation. This is how millions of consumers see the world today. That’s why consumers have turned to Twitter for customer service – it’s easy and convenient and they want immediate satisfaction.

Your Take Away

I say all this to help consider how to prioritize your company’s website experience. You’ve heard that customers are more demanding than ever — it is surely true.

When you build out your online experience, ask yourself if it could stand up to the standards of llbean.com or amazon.com or Zappos.com. Is the service courteous? Fast? Generous? Clear? Is your site easy to search (a very hard thing to do well online)? Is the process and your response fast – even (especially) over the weekend?

The question becomes what do your customers most care about?

  • Is it fast shipping?
  • Is it one-click ordering?
  • Is it e-cards that can be redeemed in store and online?
  • Is easy to place gift orders?

Listen to them.

In the work that I do in customer-experience mapping, we ask customers to vote for their top 15 most important touch points. They tell us where they want company time, effort and budget spent. What do you have to knock out of the park in their opinion? Find out. It will save you time and frustration. My clients crave this information and I suggest you find a way to get at this key information too. You’ll find it helps you keep on track and grow your business, grow customer retention and get better word of mouth.

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