2020 was a year of change that accelerated the pace of Canadian e-commerce and set retailers on the path to reinvention. The e-commerce bar has been raised. Adapting to shifting circumstances has become a defining characteristic of survival and success.
The era of unified commerce
The lines between online and offline marketing, retail, fulfillment and distribution have continued to blur. Trading places, brick-and-mortar locations have become media channels – to drive interest, enquiry, engagement and loyalty – while online interactions take on the role of store. Unified commerce is the seamless shopping experience across all channels that today’s customers expect.
So, what does it take to offer a great and consistent customer experience – wherever your customers are ready to engage?
- Evaluate your current customer experience
- Master the basics
- Learn what makes a positive customer experience
- Integrate all your channels
- Enhance your customer experience
- Make enhancing your customer experience a priority
We asked Reilly Stephens, Director of Insights at Retail Prophet, where growing businesses should start. Her advice? Before you think about standing out, you need to evaluate your current customer experience and master the basics because the giants nail them – and they set the standard.
To evaluate your current customer experience, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your product have good reviews? What other people think matters to shoppers.
- Is help available if customers need it? A 2020 Canada Post survey says 78 per cent of shoppers choose retailers that manage expectations throughout the experience.1
- Do you have a great return policy for your Canadian customers? 76 per cent of shoppers will shop more often with retailers that provide free returns.2
- Do you offer free shipping for Canadian customers? 84 per cent of shoppers will shop more often with a retailer that provides free shipping.3
Learn more about how to build shopper loyalty.
Evaluate your current Canadian customer experience to identify any gaps. Most shoppers don’t want to pay anything for shipping, so try to offer free shipping and returns on their orders. Shoppers also care about delivery speed and can be a little impatient when it comes to waiting for their orders, so offering fast shipping and/or a choice of delivery speeds is key. Some are willing to pay for shipping if they can receive their packages faster. Need to choose between offering fast and free shipping? Go with free. 76 per cent of Canadian shoppers will wait longer for a package if shipping is free.
Explore the consumer trends that will shape e-commerce this year.View top trends
According to an Ipsos consumer check-in, a shift in consumer focus is underway. In-store interactions are no longer the only touchpoint for shoppers as Canadian consumers now engage with retailers across many touchpoints. That shift is changing the makeup of a positive and seamless shopping experience.
Positive customer experiences drive loyalty. To provide exceptional experiences from afar, U.S. retailers need to anticipate the changing expectations of their Canadian customers.
Build loyalty by focusing on the 6 forces that drive it
Ipsos’ research has indicated that the following 6 forces drive customer loyalty and strengthen customer-retailer relationships:
Make customers feel free by making their lives easier.
Help customers feel like they belong and that you care about the greater good.
Make customers feel that things are clear and transparent.
Offer customers a fair exchange in their relationship with you.
Help customers feel like they’re in the driver’s seat.
Make customers feel valued, respected and worthy.
When it comes to providing a unified commerce experience, channel integration is essential.
If you have a large business that relies on many channels, channel integration is a challenge. Start by building an omnichannel sales workflow that will make all your product data easily accessible for your retail and e-commerce teams and customers. Include data on:
- What’s in stock (real-time)
- Products images
- Product dimensions
- Product uses and information
- Product accessories
Providing your customers with a seamless experience is only possible when everyone can see the full picture. Keeping customers informed builds trust.
It never hurts to enhance your customer experience. A happy customer is more likely to become a loyal customer.You might not realize that it costs more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. Returning customers tend to spend more with your business than new customers and are more likely to shop with you more often. They may also refer friends and family to your business. Investing in retention is wise because even a miniscule 5 per cent increase in customer retention can increase company revenue by 25 to 95 per cent. Not sure how to enhance your customer experience? Here are a few places to start.
Listen to your customers and gather high-quality data
Lands End has weathered the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic better than many other retailers. What’s their secret to success? Playing to their strengths, listening to their customers and enhancing their customer experience to keep customers content.
The key to truly enhancing customer experience is good data. The better you understand your customers’ expectations and behaviour, the better you can serve them. Lands End has made considerable investments in technology in order to get to know, and better serve, its customers. This investment directly impacts the company’s bottom line.
“Within digital, data remains an important cornerstone in informing our decisions. We are expanding our comprehensive database to build out our consumer insight capabilities, which we are leveraging across our organization,” said CEO Jerome Griffith in an interview with Diginomica.4
Lands End recently used their customer behaviour data to enhance their mobile customer experience. Their data revealed that their customers were shifting their shopping preferences to mobile. Knowing that, Lands End set out to enhance their mobile experience by increasing the speed of navigation, checkout and payment options.
Provide a seamless omnichannel experience
Lands End understands that providing a seamless customer experience across all channels is critical to success.
“I think a lot of people speak about omnichannel because customers shop in different venues. Uni-channel to me means having the same experience everywhere. I had a bad experience years ago with a company where I wanted to buy a jacket and basically, they told me a store was a store and online was online and the two didn’t come together, and I thought, ‘Wow, it’s really crappy as a customer experience because they both have your name on them’. So, the goal for us is to have a seamless [experience] …And that’s the direction we’re gonna go to the next couple years,” said Griffith in an interview with Diginomica.5
Try new technology like AR
To really make an impression, seek out new technology your business can use to take your customer experience to new heights. Be picky about the technology you incorporate. If it doesn’t serve them, consumers won’t use it, so it’s important to strike the right balance between enhanced experiences and frictionless journeys.
Augmented reality (AR) can enhance the online customer experience, serving up product visualization in real-time. The technology has been embraced by the likes of IKEA, Sephora and Dulux. Done well (for example, 3D holograms) it can transform shopping experiences and increase conversion rates. Mobile Marketer found that offering 3D product models can increase conversions by up to 28 per cent on retailer websites. AR must serve a purpose and not just a desire to be cool.
Jewelry brand Kendra Scott introduced a practical augmented reality try-on feature for their virtual customers during the pandemic. The feature allows customers to compare looks on mobile devices by sampling several products at once in live motion. They can also use the tool to shortlist and add items to their cart.
“This technology helps solve the problem of wear-testing by allowing our shoppers to preview how a new style will look on them, without leaving the comfort of their home,” said Kendra Scott in an interview with JCK online.6
Make the most out of AR tech
- Define the customer journey and goals.
- Make user experience (UX) your baseline for exceptional AR.
- Use AR to create personalized, seamless shopping journeys.
- Provide shoppers with convenience and certainty.
- Don’t overload the experience.
- Test before you launch and put yourself in the users’ shoes.
- Be consistent across all channels.
- Build flexibility into your fulfillment and delivery systems.
Canadian e-commerce holds a ton of potential for your business. eMarketer reported that e-commerce in Canada grew by a whopping 20.7 per cent in 2020 and they predict it will grow an additional 12.5 per cent in 2021.
You need to master your e-commerce customer experience to tap into that potential. With so much to gain, now’s the time to make enhancing your e-commerce experience a priority.
To provide a great e-commerce customer experience for Canadian shoppers, be sure to master the basics, evaluate your end-to-end experience and recognize any shifts in consumer behaviour across all your channels. Examine your blind spots, understand shifting consumer expectations and identify gaps. Position yourself with purpose and integrate your channel experiences. No matter where or how, shopping with you must be easy, efficient, responsive and worth recommending.
1-3 Canada Post, 2020 Fall Survey, 20-214, October 2020.
4 Stuart Lauchlan, “Hardly any stores, 25 years of e-commerce experience and selling comfy clothes – how Lands End has risen to the COVID-19 retail challenge,” Diginomica, June 2020.
5 Stuart Lauchlan, “How Lands End found its way back to firmer ground via data science and tech focus,” Diginomica, January 2020.
6Amy Elliott, “How Jewelry Brand Kendra Scott Is Pivoting During the Pandemic,” JCK, May 2020.
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