Today, e-commerce has become a part of everyday life. Since the founding of Amazon and eBay in 1995, ecommerce has flourished with global ecommerce sales forecasted to increase to 16% of all sales in 2020, approaching $5 trillion by 2021.
In the UK, according to latest report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), entitled E-commerce and ICT activity, UK: 2018, e-commerce sales in the UK non-financial sector were £688 billion in 2018, rising from £582 billion in 2017 – at 18%, this was the largest annual growth seen since comparable records began in 2014.
Smaller businesses also saw large growth, with website sales by businesses with 10 to 49 employees growing from £7.8 billion in 2009 to £44.1 billion in 2018 – a growth of 465%.
Even industries like food, healthcare and banking, which previously were dominated by offline transactions, now are embracing e-commerce for increased efficiency and cost reductions.
However, for smaller businesses it can be difficult to establish a profitable online presence that can attract consumers and meet customer expectations in today’s “need it now” society.
Today’s internet savvy, online shopper requires an individualised, fast and accessible experience, or they will move on to another brand. Consequently, high-quality customer service and customer experience are critical differentiators for all businesses keen to grow through an online presence.
In today’s environment, where e-commerce technology is evolving rapidly, customer demands can change quickly. To ensure your existing customers are kept satisfied and your business is able to attract new customers, small and medium businesses must remain agile and have a forward-thinking strategy when it comes to customer service and customer experience to ensure they can compete with the bigger organisations.
Here, we have identified four trends that are changing the e-commerce landscape and driving improvements in customer service delivery.
1. Tailored customer experience
The explosion of e-commerce has also seen an increase in consumers’ expectation. The modern online consumer now expects a tailored service which is relevant to their history and includes personalised offers. Today’s consumer demands a holistic and smooth experience throughout their journey with an e-commerce vendor, with seamless integration across multiple channels tailored to the individual customer.
To achieve this level of personalisation, businesses would do well to leverage the following modern technologies to efficiently and effectively meet customer expectations:
Leveraging natural language understanding, intelligent virtual assistants and chatbots can deliver high-quality responses to simple FAQs and process requests like initiating an appointment.
Chatbots are valuable tools for handling certain customer service tasks since they are available 24 hours, 7 days a week and can be reached on a customer’s smartphone, offering speed and almost instantaneous access to information.
Despite the advance and proliferation of chatbots, an oversight needs to be maintained to know when a customer service representative should jump in and handle more complicated questions to ensure customers receive the best advice.
Live video support:
Direct interaction with an individual is still the preferred communication method for many consumers and provides the opportunity to offer a highly tailored service. Increasingly, customer service representatives are using live video chats to optimise the personal contact and to enable a scalable, yet personal, interactive exchange with customers.
Virtual face-to-face conversation facilitates highly customised assistance to a particular query, an opportunity to cross-sell and market the full range of goods and services on offer, and provided the customer service representative has access has real-time access to the relevant data, offer a truly tailored service to the customer with personalised offers.
Prescriptive and predictive analytics:
For small to medium businesses, in order to compete with the larger businesses, it is crucial to anticipate trends and customer needs and be able to respond to them. By leveraging prescriptive analytics, businesses can maximise the return they get from a limited or finite number of customers.
Prescriptive analytics examines historical data along with the current point in the customer journey to determine the best product to offer each customer at the right moment on the appropriate channel.
Predictive analytics creates forecasts from grouped historical data, answering questions like, what is the probability of a particular customer to purchase a certain product.
By examining a customer’s core data, order history and click streams, businesses can engage with customers to provide offers which address their personal buying interests and predict customer behaviour.
As an example, prescriptive analytics can help determine the next best action to offer a customer who was just browsing online by suggesting a personalised discount.
By increasing the value they provide, businesses can attract and retain customers. Artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics support the delivery of a comprehensive consumer experience underpinned with a cross-channel customer service that is tailored, efficient and effective.
For example, automating e-commerce processes with personal advice, may allow businesses to provide customers a tailored pre-selection of products. Such added value has successfully turned into a competitive advantage for many businesses.
2. Diversified Search Channels
Whichever channel and method consumers use to search, it must be consumer-friendly. One of the primary reasons consumers abandon an online purchase is that they cannot find the product they are looking for quickly and easily enough.
As e-commerce continues to impact consumer behaviour, the following technologies have emerged as powerful search tools:
With the increase use of technology in our everyday lives, and the introduction of smarty devices into our homes, potential customers are frequently using Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri to search for products.
Due to their simplified input method and fast results, voice assistants have grown in popularity. Rather than browsing through a long list of products, vendors and e-tailers, potential customers seem to prefer the direct and responsive results provided by a single answer as typically provided by a voice assistant.
For businesses considering this as a medium to attract customers, this means content must be rigorously optimised to be helpful for customers and selection by the voice assistant.
The phenomenal rise of YouTube, has seen review videos established as an integral part of the customer journey. Often, customers utilize video content to find out about products and their uses, often seeking out reviews, uses, price comparisons, tests before making the decision to purchase.
YouTube has become a powerful marketing channel to create awareness about products among new and existing customers. 70% of shoppers indicated they were open to learning about products on YouTube.
Given the rise of mobile video consumption, businesses will do well to create short promotional videos to ensure effective results.
It has become increasingly common for consumers to upload an image in the search engine to find a similar looking product. As opposed to the traditional method of searching for product with a text input, on some platforms, the advantage to the consumer is that using an image search, can enable them to directly place that product into their shopping cart.
The use of image search has been expanded by social media networks such as Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest. As an example, Pinterest features “Shop the Look” for consumers to search for goods.
With maturing AI capabilities, image search will become more precise — and as result, it is believed this will become more popular with consumers.
Augmented reality (AR):
Whilst AR has been around for a while, it has only recently emerged as a tool to help customers make purchase decisions, mainly due to the improved quality, analytics brought about by the recent advances in AI. By digitally transforming the user’s environment, AR, enables searches, selections and purchases that are best suited for that particular customer bringing the offline and online worlds closer.
For example, AR, may allow consumers to see an item of clothing on a rail in an outlet and using AI, visualise it in various colours. AR may also allow consumers to see a particular product and identify the seller, price, availability and delivery times.
3. Multiple Payment Options
Today’s consumer has multiple channels and options at their disposal for purchase and payment. As more channels emerge to provide consumers with options to purchase, new payment technology is critical to ensure a streamlined process for customers and making it easier for customers to re-order purchases.
With the hype of 5G and the forecasted increase in IoT-based devices, it is felt that we will see an acceleration of multiple payment opportunities, facilitating purchases and making it simpler for consumers to complete transactions.
Digital transmitters can trigger payment processes automatically when a customer leaves a store, or alerts store staff when products need to be re-stocked. Smart tags can be leveraged throughout the store to send notifications to consumers’ smartphones for a targeted, specific transmission of information regarding interesting and tailored offers in the area.
Voice assistants can facilitate purchases, with voice recognition to authenticate payments.
Whilst much of the technology is available for use today, many consumers are apprehensive of error, thereby limiting the use of voice for shopping. However, as with all technologies, as people become more familiar and the technology matures, consumers will build trust in voice assistants leading to their use to become increasingly common.
4. Quicker Delivery
As with the rise of ecommerce, consumers today expect faster delivery for online items, even for items such as groceries.
To differentiate themselves from competitors and to provide a better level of consumer experiences, online retailers have been increasingly offering next- or same-day delivery options. Businesses have begun prioritizing the last-mile to ensure goods are delivered at the right time to the right location. To achieve this level of shipping speed, businesses need technological support.
Innovations like machine learning, automation and drones are being adapted to make deliveries more efficient and customer-friendly.
Many customer enquiries stem from delivery – as mentioned already, consumer expectations have increased and once a customer has placed an order, it seems they are eager to take receipt of it. Consequently, customers regularly contact customer service for updates. Businesses can share proactive updates and ensure these customers are responded to in a satisfactory matter as a matter of high priority.
Providing transparency is critical, and many businesses have now taken the step to taking photos of the delivered package at the customer’s front door. By having a transparent and effective delivery process, businesses can ensure that customers return as in most cases, consumers want to shop with businesses they can trust to resolve problems and to make the delivery and return process easy.
When embracing new technologies, firms should keep in mind the significance of the human contact with regards to creating constructive buyer interactions. Never underestimate the value of empathy, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities to maintain prospects comfortable and deliver a very tailored experience.
Consumers are increasingly heading to e-commerce platforms to purchase products – businesses must evaluate customer service strategies critically to ensure they create experiences that serve as differentiators that build loyalty amongst their customers.
While new technologies are a great opportunity to aid in personalisation, do not forget to keep people at the heart of the customer service equation. While new innovations can transform processes and improve efficiency, the human skills customer service representatives bring to the table will remain a valuable asset.
By keeping a keen eye on the latest trends and innovations, companies can meet customer needs and anticipate what consumers will be looking for in the future, positioning their businesses for success in the evolving e-commerce landscape.