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Ahead of the Holidays, Here’s What Ecommerce can Learn from Self-Checkout Shortcomings

As ecommerce has become a part of everyday life, customers have felt empowered to take control of their checkout experiences both in-store and at home. A recent study found shoppers of all demographics are warming up to the idea of self-checkout, seeing it as a faster option that eliminates the need to wait in line.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s without its drawbacks. The same study highlighted three common pain points of the brick-and-mortar self-checkout experience, including the need for employee assistance and manual entry for certain items (i.e. produce in a grocery store), among other examples. These deficiencies can make the experience even more drawn out and cumbersome than waiting in line, leading the customer to ask if it’s even worth it in the first place.

The same problem exists in ecommerce. As consumers engage with online storefronts on an increasingly regular basis and even more options emerge, they’ll be less patient with slow and wonky checkouts that are held back by inferior tech. With the critical holiday shopping season on the horizon, brands need to act now to optimize their sites. Here are a few things that brands will need to keep in mind as they look to capitalize on ecommerce.

Use the data you have to your advantage.

A sometimes overlooked advantage of ecommerce is the ability to readily collect relevant customer data and use it to make informed decisions when it comes to inventory, promotions and pricing strategies, as well as pain points that might hinder the purchase journey or lead shoppers to abandon their virtual carts.

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While the types of data that are relevant will vary significantly by brand, the information that companies can gather from online sales is empirical rather than anecdotal. For example, a brick-and-mortar clothing shop might decide to run a holiday sale on certain items and find that more shoppers are coming into the store to buy items. The workers can see firsthand that the promotion is successful, but without diligent recordkeeping and analysis, the answer of how successful is largely qualitative.

Now imagine the same scenario, but this time in an online store. With the proper analytics infrastructure and the right knowledge of how to use the sales data that is automatically collected, business owners can define the success of the promotion in quantitative terms, drawing conclusions on things like the net monetary benefit of the sale and whether different discount rates might be more beneficial in the future.

In both cases, the vendor achieved the desired result. However, the data collection and analysis that ecommerce enables can make the success curve exponential rather than linear. Adjustments should always be informed by reliable information, and with more at a business’ disposal, inefficiencies can be reconciled far more quickly.

Make sure your site is optimized for ecommerce.

While online stores have plenty of similarities to their physical alternatives, there’s a bit of nuance that comes with optimizing a site for ecommerce. After all, as previously mentioned, online shoppers have far less patience with any sign of friction when there are plenty of solutions readily available.

For brands selling internationally, local tax codes, compliance and support for a variety of currencies are hurdles that can’t be ignored. Buyers won’t have any tolerance for the added headache of calculating currency conversions and worrying about packages being held up in transit while duties are calculated. While some brands have the in-house capability to ensure there are no surprises, like additional fees when a shopper’s package shows up at their doorstep, other brands can readily find partners that can solve for that kind of complexity.

Today’s online shoppers are looking for customization wherever possible, and that necessitates that ecommerce stores offer a variety of payment and shipping methods. New and ascendant ways of paying, like buy now, pay later and digital wallets, have piqued the interest of many consumers, to the point where those options might be more of a need than a want.

As far as shipping goes, shoppers are bound to have different priorities regarding both pricing and delivery timelines. By giving a range of options, vendors can ensure that fees aren’t the thing that scares away potential buyers, while simultaneously offering support for shoppers who want their purchases as soon as possible.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, checkout processes need to be efficient to avoid cart abandonment at the doorstep of a sale. Options like one-click checkout and automatic application of promo codes can be great ways of reducing friction. For regular customers with accounts, giving options to autofill billing, shipping and payment information can be a great way to expedite the sale. On the other hand, one-time shoppers will likely prefer guest checkout options, where they don’t have to enter personal information and receive unwanted promo emails.

Don’t delay action when it comes to upgrading your storefront.

We all recall last year’s extended holiday shopping cycle, and as uncertainty continues to swirl around the supply chain, it’s fair to assume that the 2022 holiday shopping schedule will be a bit more fluid than in years past. That means that some forward-thinking consumers may have already started planning for the holidays to ensure that they receive their packages without any issues.

This is a consideration that ecommerce businesses can’t overlook. For those that haven’t invested in their checkout infrastructure or have put off upgrading it, the holidays might seem like a distant event that don’t demand immediate attention. However, that simply isn’t the case, and the longer a business delays making the necessary adjustments, the more at risk it is for losing shoppers.

Let’s return to the self-checkout analogy. The aforementioned study from PYMNTS.com and Toshiba cited lags in hardware design and age verification as hindrances for self-checkout systems in their current iteration, with customers left frustrated by prompts to place their items in the bagging area or verify their birthdate without clear instructions of how to do so.

Shoppers will have even less patience with these types of issues when they happen online. After all, it’s much easier to abandon a virtual cart and find another store than it is with the physical alternative. The businesses that recognize the need for excellence in every part of their ecommerce stores — from landing page to checkout — and make the right upgrades as early as possible will be the ones that make the most of this holiday season.


Jason Hofmann is Digital River’s SVP, Customer Success and Partner Enablement, helping clients built fast-paced, global ecommerce businesses. He has more than 20 years of experience focusing on driving global online commerce across B2B and B2C channels

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