Both individual consumers and business buyers have become sophisticated about their online shopping expectations, and a good customer experience (CX) strategy is now table stakes in B2C and B2B ecommerce. “Customer eXperience” is a complex mixture of tangible and intangible features that fit together like gears in a mechanism. When one tiny part is missing, inadequate or flawed, it can sabotage the machinery.
Product eXperience (PX) is perhaps the most important part of the customer experience journey. It is both necessary and, in some ways, fragile. There’s not much wiggle room when it comes to how closely an online retailer’s product descriptions match reality, for example. A glitzy presentation is not enough if product details aren’t also accurate and easily accessible. Without access to reliable information, the customer is doomed to have a bad PX — and that rarely ends well for the buyer or seller.
Please Please me
Customers might not be able to articulate what constitutes a good PX, but they know what they will not tolerate. When a PX failure occurs, all it takes is a click to lose a sale — and perhaps lose a customer forever. Even worse, that disappointed/frustrated/angry shopper might take advantage of one or more of the many ways to vent online, which could deter other potential shoppers and cause lasting brand damage.
A customer who is having an excellent product experience most likely is not aware of it. That customer is happily absorbing the desired information and rapidly proceeding through the buying process. It is when snafus occur that PX becomes a thing. Sometimes it’s subtle. A potential buyer clicks away before becoming engaged because there is no product image displayed. Or an inferior image fails to show that the product is exactly what the shopper wants. Or, if the image does capture the customer’s attention, perhaps it turns out that the written description does not match.
Shoppers often have very specific questions when contemplating a purchase. A customer who is unable to find an answer to any one of them is just a click away from a different seller. Site visitors don’t want to have to use their imagination to figure out how a product actually works. They don’t want to comb through a lengthy description of a product’s virtues for its dimensions or size chart. If the information isn’t even there to be dug up, they’re moving on.
If a product is typically used with other things, such as electronics, potential buyers need to know whether it is going to be compatible with their existing devices or systems. It’s often impossible to discern what a product is made of from a photograph. Are those luxurious sheets cotton, viscose or silk? Is that kitchen utensil silicone or plastic? Is that end table made from solid mahogany or a veneer?
It’s important to be upfront about a product’s total cost. How much will it cost shoppers to get that item into their hands? How long will it take to arrive? Is it currently in stock? Customers want to know what they have to do to return a purchase that doesn’t work out. If they will be responsible for return shipping costs or a restocking fee, don’t let that be an ugly surprise after they’ve already experienced disappointment over the product itself.
It’s one thing to assemble all the relevant information when initially developing a product catalog. Keeping that information accurate and up to date is far more challenging. A buyer who relies on inaccurate product information will be disappointed and annoyed, which could lead to bad word of mouth and unfavorable reviews.
Following are just a few common reactions to PX failure: “It looked completely different from the picture.” It can be highly damaging to a brand if a customer posts an image of the product actually received to prove that point. How about “it was nothing like the product description” for destroying trust? If more than one customer complains that “the pricing was misleading,” imagine the multiplier effect of lost sales.
It may seem that shoppers’ demands are unreasonable, but the bar is set at the last great experience a customer had. A shopper who has gotten used to photos that clearly show fabric patterns and make textures seem almost touchable won’t be satisfied with less. Someone who has used augmented reality to envision how a new rug would go with the rest of the living room furnishings will eagerly search out other AR shopping opportunities.
For ecommerce companies that are stuck in the old ways of presenting product info, the choice is clear: Pivot or die.
Automation: Be a Control Freak
Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to have massive resources or to burden employees with endless repetitive tasks to keep all the pieces in place. It is possible to create a very satisfying product experience — one that may be the missing link in an overall customer experience strategy — that delivers ROI instead of straining the budget.
An effective PX team of strategic decision makers understand how the fundamental components of the buyer’s journey can create a smooth transit from first impression to completion of a sale. That understanding can form the foundation of a set of processes that can be applied across the business and scaled up as necessary.
A savvy PX team will stay abreast of the latest technological developments in the ecommerce industry and consider implementing solutions that can cost-effectively deliver concrete results. There are currently software tools in the market that can accomplish a host of tasks: managing data acquisition from suppliers and flagging potential data quality issues in catalog descriptions, for example.
Product experience tools can integrate with ecommerce platforms like those from Shopify, BigCommerce, Adobe, Salesforce and others, and with in-house applications such as ERP or PLM. A PX system can automate the most tedious aspects of product information management and achieve the highest degree of accuracy as a bonus. Human employees can then do what they do best: focus on delivering the experiences and information their customers value the most.
A savvy combination of the right people, processes and technologies can enable an ecommerce player of any size to deliver an excellent product experience that contributes to a superb customer experience. The alternative could be a very unpleasant choking sensation from competitors’ dust.
Ali Hanyaloglu is Director of Product Marketing at Akeneo. He brings years of experience in product marketing and solutions engineering at leading commerce technology companies including Adobe and Criteo. Hanyaloglu leads a team that identifies the benefits of Akeneo’s platform and products and then brings them to life in the language of our customers. He is passionate about compelling storytelling methods, finding new approaches to delivering great experiences and enabling others to have their own productive conversations. Originally from London, England, Ali now calls Massachusetts home.