A consumer doesn’t walk into a store and purchase an item if they don’t trust the person behind the counter. So there’s no reason for an internet business to expect them to do the same when shopping online. Before there can be a transaction, there has to be trust.
To gain the trust of its online customers, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) must deliver in a number of key areas, including website user experience as well as shipping costs and times.
Quite simply, an e-commerce company’s website is its shop window to the world. According to user experience consultants The Nielsen Norman Group, there are a number of factors that customers currently look for in the look and feel of a shopping website. When it comes to pictures, bigger is better. Consumers like to see exactly what they are buying.
Nielsen Norman also suggests comprehensive product reviews as another way of gaining consumer trust, along with discounts that can be applied to the order early in the purchasing process. A lack of clarity over adding items to shopping carts and overlong customer service guidelines are some of the things that can deter consumers. In its global e-commerce survey, data measuring firm Nielsen found that 33% of consumers say shopping websites are often very confusing.
Internet performance experts Dyn say 67% of consumers worldwide use online retailers to shop internationally, yet fewer than one in five find the experience exceeds expectations. For example. one in three shoppers worldwide will abandon a website if a page is too slow to load, says Dyn, a figure that rises to 43% in areas of Asia-Pacific such as China, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
The personal touch
A survey of female shoppers in Asia by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that many prefer personalisation; 64% of women across the region said websites should cater to their individual needs by acting on their previous product preferences. Asian women are also highly enthusiastic about loyalty programmes from individual websites, with 61% saying they were appealing.
At online luxury goods website Reebonz, which sells bags and accessories primarily to the Asia-Pacific market, user experience is reviewed constantly through regular surveys to solicit customer feedback. Cassie Mah, head of operations at Reebonz, said: “We focus a lot on customer experience. From the point of browsing online to the time when they receive the package – which is an exclusive Reebonz package – we seek to meet each and every expectation.”
This means running a website that is mobile friendly, something that Ms Mah says is ‘crazily important’. In Asia-Pacific, shoppers are more likely to make purchases on their smartphones: 37% of consumers there do so compared to the global average of 26%, according to eMarketer.
Trust is everything in the luxury market, according to Ms Mah: “To buy luxury online, customers need to trust you. We give the guarantee that the items that we sell are 100% authentic. We provide customers with multiple payment options. We also give them the assurance that there is a dedicated team of customer service representatives that will handle their enquiries through different channels, whether it’s email or a phone call through our toll free number. They may prefer to communicate in their local languages, so that is something we have to take into account. Although we are very much e-commerce, we have a presence in our different countries and that actually enhances the trust level of the customers.”
Another key arena where SMEs can build consumer trust is social media. More than 5% of online retail spending will come directly from social media platforms this year, according to web conversation specialists Invesp, while three out of four consumers already rely on social networks to make a purchasing decision.
Trust is a particularly pertinent issue in Asia-Pacific because shoppers there are less likely to make an online purchase direct from an overseas SME’s website. According to Seizing the Cross-Border Opportunity, a survey carried out by Forrester Consulting on behalf of FedEx, 57% of consumers in Asia-Pacific ranked SMEs’ websites as their least favourite point of call for making overseas purchases online, below multi brand internet marketplaces, brand or manufacturer websites and bricks-and-mortar retailers. The main reasons for this were shipping costs, concerns about long delivery times and doubts about how easily an item could be returned.
Worldwide, Nielsen reports that 38% of consumers don’t like buying online because of shipping costs, while comScore says 58% of shoppers have added items to their carts in order to qualify for free delivery. In a survey of 19,000 consumers in 19 countries, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 53% of those who choose to shop in-store rather than online do so “to get the product immediately”.
SMEs may be able to offer a more personal touch in terms of customer care than their larger online rivals, but when it comes to global shipping, it’s wise to use a reliable worldwide logistics provider. For example, they can help with a fast, consumer-focused returns management process, which is vital to success in online retail.
This can mean automatically generated packing slips that contain complete return shipping instructions, or more customised solutions for high-end e-commerce. For instance, when someone buys a US$3,000 Alexander McQueen dress online in China, a FedEx courier will deliver it, but also wait outside while the customer tries it on. If they want to return it, the courier can whisk it away immediately.
Care products provider Human Nature, which sources its raw materials from the Philippines, approached FedEx after it spotted a worrying trend among visitors to its online store.
“We noticed that many international customers trying to purchase our products online abandoned their carts when they reached the shipping fee page,” said Human Nature international business development manager Dia Lacaba. “This was mainly due to high international shipping costs.”
After rectifying its shipping policy, Human Nature’s international business more than doubled last year.
Another FedEx customer is Pangea Direct, a Chinese company which specialises in selling promotional items, often used at sports events in the US and Canada. Its deliveries are shipped straight from factories in China to its North American customers. “Now we deliver to companies in more countries around the world than we could have ever imagined,” said the company’s Donny Cheng, who emphasised the importance of speedy shipping.
“If I don’t get the items delivered on time, 20,000 fans will not have foam fingers to cheer their team on,” he said.
Unfortunately for those selling goods online, shoppers are a lot less loyal to retailers than sports fans are to their teams. Give them the level of service they have come to expect, and they will come back time and time again. Let them down, and they’ll ditch you for one of your rivals in a heartbeat.