Experience and recommendations of practitioners and experts
At the 4th European online trade conference in Berlin in November 2012, the leading European consulting firms in the sphere of e-commerce, Roland Berger, GfK, Javelin Group, Practicology and a few leading online retailers, set forth the current trends of online and mobile solutions in Europe. Various businesses, big and small, presented their good practices as well as problems and routes to solving them. Their findings and recommendations can be summed up in the following seven points:
1. Customers should have the possibility to choose their method of shopping
Customers should have the possibility to choose between the traditional store and the Internet, mobile or telephone ordering (as preferred at any given time), with delivery (the very next day if possible) to the workplace, home or pick-up at the retailer’s location or on the way home in the selected time window and with gift wrapping if required. All these are elements of a non-price competitive service.
2. Greater integration of the physical store into the online or mobile shopping process and vice versa
The quickest and, above all, the most economic delivery is usually delivery from a physical store. With an adequate network of stores, we can almost envisage a delivery service at the level of pizza delivery services. Online and mobile orders and goods collection at the local store (click & collect) also have considerable advantages since the delivery is free, since there are no worries regarding when and how to accept the order at home, since the products can be examined and immediately exchanged if necessary (e.g. fashion) and since it is on the way (if it is).
The integration of the physical store into the online and mobile shopping process will work both ways. Physical stores will adopt online and mobile solutions: navigation to the stores, local news and promotions, the status of supply in neighbouring sister stores, temporary tablet hire to help with shopping (browsing rich descriptions, making comparisons… much like in an online store).
3. The vital importance of customer support
Owning an online store doesn’t mean a call centre is unnecessary. With all the technology going on, customers long for a kind word from an actual person. The call centre is more than just a channel for information and complaints; it is a sales channel.
4. Good user experience – as simple and intuitive as possible
The users’ online experience should be akin to their experience at the physical store, from marketing and merchandising to the service at departments and checkouts, clearly with all the extras made available by the Internet (rich descriptions, comparisons, user opinions…). If you want to have a laugh, type “Real Life – Online Checkout” into your search engine and watch on YouTube what many an online experience would look like at a physical store.
5. Dispelling the fear of online shopping
Online and mobile shopping is still associated with worrying about the order process (will I know how to), payment (do I really have to use my credit card, is it safe), privacy, delivery costs, order collection (when will I get it, will I be at home, what if it’s broken, can I return it and how, will it cost me anything).
Online stores are also people and not just computers, so it is worth explaining clearly what the team does and how. The main services and guarantees should be graphically highlighted on the entry web page and throughout the shopping process.
6. Suitable deployment of resources
If we want an economic and effective online solution, it should be an integral part of the overall sales process and not an isolated island or sealed silo. The crucial factors of success are, of course, people, in terms of competence as well as number. It is very helpful to follow the example of the physical store, from the point of view of maintenance as well as staffing.
7. Mobile solutions are the present
We are seeing a remarkable rise in the number and share of smart phones, tablets and related applications. More tablets will be sold this year than children born, and a few times more smart phones. The number of applications for iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) is now over 500.
Mobile equipped customers will cause the same changes as caused by e-sales, only they will be much faster. Shopping is still modest but with record growths. Navigating through online stores on small-sized screens is not user-friendly, which is solved with additional simplifications of the user experience for smart phones and tablets. Mobile solutions are no longer the future but the present. Not a fad or market niche but almost the mainstream of development.