Getting into home truths: Why is the experience of eCommerce still so poor?

There’s no denying that the digital world has changed the outside face of marketing. While many of the inner-face principles of marketing have (and always will) remain the same in terms of audience segmentation, targeting and positioning, the way brands now engage with their customers has changed faster in the past 10 years than throughout the rest of history put together.

Now, having a digital presence for large corporations has become the norm. It’s part and parcel of modern marketing. The experience itself has to be great as well, whether it’s on social media, digital advertising, mobile and more, otherwise customers will just go elsewhere. But as brands’ investment in digital properties increases, so too does the challenge of integrating eCommerce, the experience of which is rapidly diminishing for many brands.

Global eCommerce sales are predicted to almost double between 2017 and 2021. But, so many organisations still fail to provide a positive eCommerce experience. This problem is particularly acute at the end of the payment stage where the buyer makes the transaction, which has the highest drop-off rate in the entire online shopping process.

But why is the experience so poor? The reason so many large brands have struggled with the eCommerce experience is because of the rapid speed of change with regards to digital. Just as companies began to get to grips with desktop eCommerce, mobile quickly emerged as another major trend. Then big data. Then personalisation. There has been a lot to keep up with.

This has created different challenges for marketers and eCommerce developers. Merchants and commerce professionals have spent lots of time developing commerce engines that take orders, manage inventories and accept payments - they need to be robust, reliable and trusted. Whereas, marketers have tried to ‘uplevel’ the brand experience to digital - they are under pressure to keep pace with the latest trends. Making these worlds work as one has its own challenges that many companies are just scratching the surface of solving. It's hard, but it’s one that needs work because it hits customers the most.

But what are these issues, exactly?

Unbranded, unpersonalised and clunky

First, on their own, most eCommerce engines don’t offer the flexibility to customise the front end, which creates a jarring templated, shopping experience for the customer with a grid of products to sift through. That’s understandable because branding has never really been eCommerce platform designers’ problem.

But imagine someone who interacts with a brand on social media, is exposed to advertising through multiple channels, and interacts with the brand’s website. Throughout that experience, they’re getting a “feel” for the brand, which suddenly disappears the moment they need to get their credit card out to pay online. Since consumer stress levels rise steadily peaking at the checkout stage, the last thing they need is a poor experience to put them off the purchase entirely.

The sudden change from a warm, personalised experience, ends abruptly as soon as money is on the agenda

Secondly, not only is the checkout stage often unbranded, it’s often not personalised. Many large organisations are investing heavily in personalisation to improve the customer experience, but the lack of content management capabilities with most eCommerce platforms means personalisation falls off a cliff when it comes to the checkout stage. Again, the sudden change from a warm personalised experience ends abruptly as soon as money is on the agenda. It’s as if you’ve suddenly gone cold on the customer for no reason at all.

Finally, because eCommerce platforms are often separate to the brand website, they’re often slower and clunkier than the slick pacey website they’re attached to. Often, shopping sites are separate from brand sites because there are two different technologies supporting both — the CMS for the brand and the eCommerce system for the shopping. For instance, www.brand.com may direct shoppers to www.shop.brand.com. Yet in those scenarios, the experience suddenly becomes inconsistent with what the customer has become used to. The best shopping experience, however, is a unified one, where the brand and shopping experience (or content and commerce) are intertwined.

What to do about it — get the most out of legacy tech and integrate the experience better

The problems above aren’t just small irritations; they’re fundamental issues that are undoing years of hard work from IT teams and marketers who are looking to improve the overall customer experience. Countless studies have shown that a better customer experience leads to more revenue, so what can you do to address this area that’s letting the side down?

The good news is that you don’t need to rip and replace your current eCommerce technology. Instead, consider a “headless” approach. With a headless commerce approach, you decouple the front end part of your shopping experience (the part the customer sees) from the back end (the part your IT team manages) — thereby separating the presentation layer from the eCommerce stack. Decoupling in this way gives you greater flexibility to customise and personalise the part the customer sees without worrying about disrupting the back-end infrastructure. And when you don’t need to worry about the back end, you can be more agile and test features more quickly and efficiently.

Moreover, whenever you as marketers want to integrate any new devices (like mobile), channels (like digital signage or Alexa voice), touchpoints, content or payment gateways you can easily do so through APIs. Then, you can simply focus on the presentation using the framework of your choice — and leave the IT to the IT team.

I really believe that headless commerce is the way to improving the eCommerce experience once and for all. After all, you’ve done all the hard work already getting customers to the checkout stage. Don’t let them fall at the last hurdle.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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