What tips the scales for customers when they shop online for the holidays

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To say that retailers have a lot to juggle right now is, of course, an understatement: post-Sandy recovery, the U.S. elections, and (oh, yes!) holiday marketing going into high gear.  By now, retailers are largely set in terms of their holiday plans, but in these turbulent times, it can be helpful to focus again on what customers say is most important to them.  Are we talking about mobile? Social?  Those are important, to be sure, but customers tell us that, when choosing to do business with a retailer for holiday purchases, what can tip the scales is much more fundamental.  Ranked on a scale of 1 (not at all important) to 5 (very important), consumers told us in the recently released eHoliday 2012 pre-holiday study that they’re looking for:

The ability to see the shopping cart total prior to check out – 4.5.  That means no surprises – including shipping charges and sales tax (even an estimate of these “extras” is better than omitting them altogether). Quite simply, this is now “table stakes” for e-commerce.

Guaranteed on-time delivery – 4.5.  Also in the category of “no surprises”, consumers want to know that their purchases will arrive by their big gift giving deadline.  Given supply chain disruptions following last week’s storm, customers this year will be particularly attuned to potential out of stock and delivery issues. To start, retailers need to make clear on the product detail page any backorder or out of stock issues – that information simply can’t wait until the cart summary page.  Clear shipping deadlines calendars – preferably easily accessible from the home page and other key pages such as the product detail page – will alleviate confusion and concern.  Ditto for strategically placed order tracking mechanisms on the site (not only found buried in the help section).  Additionally, savvy retailers will coordinate again with their shipping providers about shipping volume estimates and updated daily shipping warehouse pickup schedules.  Similarly, retailers need to train customer service reps on handling shipping delay inquiries and which remedies they can offer to customers on the spot.  If it’s available, don’t forget to market “click and collect” functionality as another means by which to ensure that customers receive their orders promptly and completely.

Value for money / good deals – 4.4.  Hardly surprising to know that consumers want to know that they’re getting the best deal – they’re spending a net average of $900, so stretching those precious dollars is key.  Retailers such as Target and Toys’R’Us this year are actively jumping on the price matching and product exclusivity bandwagons to curb consumers’ inclination to buy solely on price – while Amazon has already launched the “Countdown to Black Friday Deals Week” and “Holiday Toy List – Daily Lightning Deals” sections on the home page.  If price matching and/or exclusive product is possible for you, terrific. For everyone else, focus on the great value of the product not solely based on price, but also quality, durability, taste or style, sourcing, and other aspects that set apart your product from others.  Value for money extends to the entire transaction, of course, so things like free shipping and immediate gratification via “click and collect” service in your stores enhances the value further.  Consider also after purchase care, warranties or guarantees, installation help, free returns shipping and other services that customers truly care about and communicate the total value.

Clear product descriptions – 4.4.  Clear product information should be table stakes in our industry. Conventional wisdom generally advocates striking a balance between “short and to the point” and “more detail”, so retailers need to determine what is right for their product and customer.  That said, reviewing customer service inquiries, search term logs, social media outlets and other customer communication forums will give retailers insight into what customers find confusing or even outright absent and thus where they need additional or revamped information.  For example, Allan Dick of Vintage Tub and Bath mentioned during the Annual Summit 2012 Boot Camp, each quarter he reads every single customer review, paying special attention to the words “but”, “should” and “wish” to identify areas that need clarification on the product detail page (he also packages customer reviews for his suppliers to ensure they get this insight to improve their products and the information that they supply).

Want more insights? Check out what else is – and isn’t – important to consumers for their holiday purchases via the full eHoliday 2012 study results.

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