The concept of goods being commoditized is not new. In e-commerce, customers complete their comparison shopping and analyze the total loaded costs of a new pair of sneakers or a new computer within minutes.
If this isn’t a commoditized product landscape, I don’t know what is. So it’s imperative for retailers to provide great service, which can differentiate an otherwise commoditized product.
But what’s beyond service differentiation? What else can be offered when returns, shipping, and the like all look the same?
This is important to understand: the service can actually change the customer’s perception of an identical product (even at a slightly higher price point), so they see one option as giving them more value than the other. And that’s just the beginning.
The real insight comes when you begin to understand that great service is important because of what it creates. In fact, the service itself is not what’s important at all. The truly differentiated component – the unique, highly rewarding experience – is what creates additional value and commands a premium price.
Customer experience is what yields more customers, higher purchase value, and higher lifetime customer value.
This sounds like a common talking point: focus on delivering a phenomenal e-commerce customer experience, and the numbers count themselves. True as this may be, the numbers are still important.
Although optimizing customer experience is a nice goal, oftentimes initiatives and projects are far too siloed or too narrow in their focus to really shift the customer’s experience in a meaningful way, a way that will yield results in business metrics. Going beyond a surface-level acknowledgment of customer experience is key here.
The visceral experience is what can make or break e-commerce growth.
Take a customer’s environment, their goals, and intended actions to achieve those goals, and you have a good starting point. Consider their many options for achieving their goals, and think in terms of current state versus future state to identify their goals.
It’s not so much about buying new shoes as it is about going to work in new shoes that they feel confident in, or going to a party where friends remark on their cool new shoes. That’s the experience. It starts with a search, an ad, or a promotional email. It ends with the usage and deep appreciation of the value of the product. There’s a purchase action somewhere in the middle, but the customer experience is the end-to-end process that makes up that whole journey.
Now, consider how incidental the actual purchase is, from a time and activity perspective.
Out of the total taps, swipes, and clicks on various devices, how many of these actually yield a purchase? Maybe five, maybe 50 if you include form fields. Compared to the research, the comparison shopping, then zooming in on products, sharing with friends, multiple visits to websites and/or apps, phone calls, this could be a small fraction of the total effort the user undertakes. Then think about the package tracking activities, the discussions offline with friends, the visits to retail locations (showrooming), the unboxing, and finally the product usage.
The customer’s experience is a long journey, with many actions and activities. It has many pivotal moments. Checkout is just one of these.
So, truly providing a uniquely differentiated e-commerce shopping experience — one that offers exactly what the customer is looking for — is more than optimizing the UI on the website, and is more than making sure the steps are seamless, though both of these are fundamental components.
In fact, paying attention to everything the customer does is how you come up with fresh ideas about how you can provide an outstanding customer experience, and in doing so, provide unique value.
Remember that the perceived value of a product is established long before a customer buys.
Regardless of how commoditized your products may be, customers will continue to come back again and again, because the product is just one part of a complex customer experience that delivers value at every stage.