Consumers are counting on e-commerce to power them through a challenging holiday season. To avoid disappointing shoppers, retailers must eliminate glitches, boost transparency, and streamline functionality, especially on mobile.
A recent survey of more than 1,600 U.S. consumers by FullStory reveals that shoppers are already experiencing the effects of supply chain problems and staff shortages in stores. Nearly six in 10 (59 percent) have encountered out-of-stock items and sizes; 50 percent have been unable to find store associates to help them when needed; and 41 percent report that COVID safety measures weren’t being followed. As a result, 46 percent of survey respondents say that the experience of shopping in stores is worse than it was before the pandemic began, and just 12 percent say there’s been improvement.
Online shopping, however, received a much higher grade. Eighty-eight percent of survey respondents say online experiences are as good or better than they were pre-pandemic; nearly a third (32 percent) say digital experience has improved, while just 12 percent say it’s worse.
It’s not surprising, then, that as they head into the holiday season, consumers plan to rely more than ever on digital retail. Overall, 91 percent of survey respondents plan to do at least as much of their gift shopping online this year compared with in 2020, with 31 percent saying they plan to do more.
Paradoxically, the popularity of e-commerce could also set the stage for consumer frustration and disappointment. Heading into what Bain & Company is calling “the most unpredictable holiday season in recent years, surpassing even 2020's record levels of uncertainty,” retailers whose digital experiences fail to make the grade risk losing future business.
Optimize Now or Lose Business Later
Even though shoppers have witnessed inventory and staffing problems in stores, that knowledge doesn’t translate into tolerance for online glitches. Thirty percent of survey respondents say online errors are more frustrating than at other times of the year, compared with just 7 percent who are more forgiving during peak season.
For example, last holiday, people shopping at a top luxury retailer were surprised — and agitated — to receive a mysterious “Error” message at checkout. Not only was there no explanation for the error, the shopper wasn’t able to complete the transaction. Behind the scenes, the error message was triggered by an out-of-stock item in their cart. Though all the shopper needed to do was remove the unavailable item, this wasn’t obvious and created a costly glitch at a critical time.
Furthermore, when shoppers encounter errors, it’s not just the immediate transaction that’s at risk. Not only will 77 percent abandon a transaction when they experience issues, but more than half (55 percent) are unlikely to return.
Given the likelihood of shortages and delays in the months to come, retailers must perfect their online offerings as much as possible now, addressing easy fixes and testing relentlessly to ensure processes run smoothly — and prepare to adapt proactively when the inevitable problems do crop up. The following should be among the key areas of focus:
Early Notification is Critical
The pandemic’s ongoing impact on manufacturing and staff shortages throughout the supply chain mean that already-depleted store shelves are unlikely to be reliably replenished any time soon. The best strategy for retailers to navigate shortages and out-of-stock products is to message availability in real time. A full 60 percent of consumers said that if items are out of stock altogether, they want to know before reaching the online shopping cart, and more than half (51 percent) want to be notified when items are back in stock.
The survey also found that retailers should only highlight available merchandise in their advertising efforts. More than four in 10 (43 percent) shoppers said they wanted gift items scrubbed from promotions and search results if they're out of stock.
Mobile is Both Error-Prone and a Priority
Phones provide the capability to shop anywhere, any time, and help consumers bridge online and offline experiences. As a result, the popularity of mobile shopping is soaring: 34 percent of consumers say phones are their primary shopping channels, and 58 percent say they do at least half of their online shopping on their phones.
However, this convenience comes with additional frustrations, with 46 percent of respondents reporting shopping on mobile is more prone to glitches than browsing on desktop or laptop. With traffic soaring, retailers shouldn’t count on shoppers to be patient during the holiday rush.
Site speed is crucial, with those who use mobile phones exclusively more likely to experience pages that fail to load, time out, or produce a “page not found” error (42 percent vs. 35 percent of survey respondents overall). Four in 10 mobile-first users also report difficulty in finding information on products or sizes, compared with 35 percent of shoppers overall, suggesting that retailers still haven’t mastered product information pages to suit the small screen.
To address these issues, retailers should pay careful attention to how quickly assets load and use digital experience intelligence (DXI) tools to understand not only what happens, but also why, to provide the best possible mobile experience to shoppers.
A Make-or-Break Season
Digital experiences have the potential to buoy retailers during the challenging holiday season ahead — but only if they streamline their offerings and capitalize on real-time capabilities. The ability to serve seamless content and offers and adapt to fluctuations in supply will meet customers’ expectations and encourage lasting brand relationships.
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp is the chief marketing officer of FullStory, a digital experience analytics platform.
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp is the CMO of FullStory, a powerful digital experience intelligence platform that helps e-commerce, SaaS and digitally-powered brands create better online experiences for their customers.
Newbold-Knipp previously served as Convey’s Chief Marketing Officer/VP. Passionate about building successful teams from the ground-up, she has worked at companies ranging from the Ritz Carlton and Intel to Hubspot and Gartner. Kirsten is an animal lover, a wine enthusiast, and a polyglot. In her spare time, she volunteers as a Marketing Advisor to Austin Pets Alive, mentors students at MIT Sloan, and co-owns two companies.