Why retailers are responsible for customer experience this festive season

As retailers move into an annual festive shopping season that seems to arrive earlier each year, they would be wise to remember one particular lesson from Christmas past: when something goes wrong with their customers’ shopping experience, the retailer will get the blame, no matter who is actually at fault.

No, it isn’t fair, but it’s a fact that has become increasingly important, as forward-thinking retailers turn to a lean model of commerce, that relies on cobbling together expert technology partners to build a memorable customer experience.

During last year’s traditional kick-off of the festive season — Black Friday to Cyber Monday weekend — Signifyd surveyed consumers to better understand the way they view interactions with today’s data-driven retailers.

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In the survey, conducted by polling firm Survata, shoppers confirmed the notion that the festive season brings high expectations with them. Just over 44% of respondents said that they were either somewhat intolerant or very intolerant of delivery delays that occur during the Christmas shopping season.  

It stands to reason. Many shoppers put a lot of thought into the gifts they give. They want the recipient’s experience to be just right. They definitely want the gift to arrive by Christmas. Some turn to ecommerce in order to pull off the Christmas miracle of buying multiple gifts for multiple, far-flung people, all while leading a time-pressed existence. 

Parts of the customer experience are out of a retailer’s control

On the other hand, think of all the things that can go wrong when it comes to getting a package to a customer in a timely fashion. And consider how many of those are outside a merchant’s direct control, including bad weather, misrouting, incorrect delivery and stolen packages.

Yet, in the era of Amazon — and let’s give other retailers credit for having become so dependable — customers simply expect to receive their packages quickly and when promised. In fact, Signifyd’s survey, which included 2,000 consumers, found that a significant percentage of them are “zero tolerance” online shoppers. 

In fact, 14.6% of consumers said they’d stop shopping with an online retailer after the first negative experience they encountered. Another 38.2% would be gone after the retailer’s second misstep and 38.4% would be out after three bad experiences. That’s 91.2% of a retailer’s customers — but no pressure.

The focus on the retailer as the responsible party extends to instances where the retailer itself is a victim along with the consumer. Unfortunately, data breaches have become a fact of life. It’s not a fact, however, that consumers are willing to accept as the cost of doing online business.

For instance, 43.6% of consumers have encountered a fraudulent retail charge on one of their credit accounts. More than half of those, 51.2%, said the experience negatively affected their opinion of the retailer.

Again, an understandable reaction on a consumer’s part. But the fact is, when a fraudulent charge shows up, that means a fraudster has taken advantage of both the customer and the retailer.

Retailers face fraud costs and the frustration of customers

Unless the retailer has deployed fraud protection that comes with a financial guarantee, it will be stuck with a chargeback, meaning a lost sale, lost merchandise and fees on top of it all.

It’s the sort of lose-lose situation that causes some merchants to tighten up the rules or standards they use to identify fraud — particularly during the festive season when the large volume of orders can make scrutinising any one order that much tougher. 

That tightening up, of course, comes with its own peril — in particular, the increased likelihood that a declined order was actually legitimate. Not surprisingly, that experience doesn’t sit well with consumers, either. 

The survey found that 65.5% of consumers said that they would not shop with a retailer again if one of their orders was declined by that retailer for no apparent reason — a common experience when an order is declined for fear of fraud. 

In fact, experiencing a false decline is the leading reason respondents said they would stop shopping with a particular retailer. The other reasons, in descending order, were:

  • Receiving a package after the expected delivery window
  • Being directed to another site for credit card verification
  • Having to take several steps to verify identity 
  • Having to create or log into a retailer account

The list of peeves is a reminder of a reality retailers already know: the festive shopping season comes with its own set of pressures to deliver a flawless experience, both because of high expectations, but also because more than likely, a merchant will see a higher percentage of first-time customers than during the rest of the year. The reason is simple: more consumers are shopping on sites that they ordinarily wouldn’t visit when shopping for themselves.

The holiday season, then, is an opportunity to make a first impression; which, by definition, happens only once. 

Retailers can make a bad customer experience better

So, what can a retailer do to avoid being the bad guy this Christmas, no matter who is at fault?

  1. Choose wisely. As I mentioned, in the era of digitally native retailers, many merchants are assembling technology stacks to automate and outsource tasks that are not core to the retail mission. The move reduces costs, increases scalability and means partnering with a team that has broad expertise in the task at hand. But, make sure it’s a partner that has been tested in the market and which can describe what could go wrong and how they would respond if it does.
  2. Acknowledge your role of being ultimately responsible for the customer experience. Monitor your performance in areas like delivery time, no matter who ultimately is doing the work. Measure yourself against the best and against competitors in your category.
  3. Communicate obsessively with customers when there is a problem. Don’t try to deflect blame, but provide clear insights into what went wrong and what you will do to ensure it doesn’t happen again. In the case of delivery delays, let customers know immediately that you will miss your delivery date and provide specific and frequent updates on when the package will arrive.
  4. Explore possibilities to make it right. If a bad customer experience means a consumer might never come back, give them a reason to shop with you again. Gift cards, free delivery, invitations to exclusive events can all go a long way to showing your apology is sincere. 

In fact, those four points are not a bad approach year-round, as many retailers have no doubt discovered. The trick can be to keep them top-of-mind in the midst of the festive shopping frenzy. 

Stefan Nandzik is the VP of corporate communications at Signifyd

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