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GUEST COMMENT Why service will define the next decade of ecommerce

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Today’s shopper is presented with more choices than ever as a quick Google search can unlock a selection of the same products offered at the same competitive prices across the web. As a result, retailers are under intense scrutiny to distinguish themselves amongst their rivals. This is where the real value of developing a reputation for delivering an excellent customer experience comes into play.

Online retailers that prioritize customer service and deliberately emphasize the customer experience as a paramount point of distinction are well-situated to convert prospective shoppers into loyal, long-time customers. All a brand needs are the tools to efficiently and effectively communicate, and the intuition to pre-emptively predict customer needs.

It’s no coincidence that some of the UK’s leading retailers are also the most innovative in their approach to optimizing the customer experience. These pioneering retailers have paved the way for others to follow by building a reputation around their sensitivity to easing the customer experience and mitigating the pain points associated with the online shopping journey.

So just how do they do it?

Thanks in part to the uniquely fierce competition amongst the UK’s numerous couriers and a smaller market-size (geographically speaking) than the US, UK shoppers can expect shorter delivery times compared to shoppers in other markets. But the online retailers that are leading the way in the UK aren’t solely relying on quick deliveries to distinguish themselves. In fact retailers from Asos to Marks & Spencer to John Lewis are innovating on every step of the customer service journey to deliver a memorable online shopping experience that will contribute to long-term brand loyalty.

In some regards, the best indicator of a retailer’s commitment to service is what happens after an order is placed. The most customer-centric retailers have organized systems to anticipate buyers’ needs post-sale and communicate directly with the customer to make sure packages arrive on time and unscathed. For example, not only does Curry’s offer free shipping guaranteed within five days, but the electronics retailer also offers tiered paid shipping options, allowing shoppers to designate exactly when their packages will arrive – an important feature when costly electronics are on the line.

Allowing customers to choose their preference for receiving a delivery is only one added convenience we’re seeing. Curry’s and apparel retailer Jaeger both offer text message notifications as part of their standard delivery service to alert customers as to when their packages are arriving, but Jaeger takes it one step further with its fully customizable delivery experience. Jaeger customers can text message the courier back to reschedule a delivery or even designate a ‘safe place’ for their packages to be delivered. These small, but meaningful, offerings lead to packages that are delivered on the first attempt, with little effort exerted by the customer.

However, when it comes to online retail, delivery is only half the customer experience. Now more than ever, it is what happens when a product must be returned that seriously resonates with shoppers. The returns process is an often overlooked stage of the customer service experience as no retailer enjoys putting money back in the hands of its customers. But the retailers that are investing in returns are the ones making an investment in long-term customer loyalty.

Notably, Asos offers shoppers six different ways to return unwanted items. Asos customers can simply return packages via Royal Mail, drop off items via their nearest Collect+ or Doodle drop-off points, leave items in a nearby InPost parcel locker or even book a courier to come retrieve parcels any day of the week via Hermes or within the hour using My Returns. It’s this extra emphasis on customer convenience that leaves an indelible mark on the minds of customers and can very well move the needle for shoppers when deciding where to make that final purchase. Sporting goods retailer also has a noteworthy return policy – a 365 day return window. Though Wiggle shoppers may not be offered six different ways to return a product, the idea that they have a full year to still receive a full refund speaks volumes to Wiggle’s commitment to customer satisfaction. This simple, but impactful, policy gives shoppers the flexibility to return a product on their own time which is a gesture that matters for today’s busy consumer.

More often than not it doesn’t involve the most sophisticated technology or innovation to show one’s commitment to customer experience, ultimately thoughtfulness and intuition can pay off in spades when it comes to building long-term customer loyalty. Be it a text message notification that a package is on its way or a 365 day long window to return said package, every gesture matters when it comes to developing a reputation for high-quality customer service. So how are you going to make your mark?

John Ernsberger is co-founder and CRO of StellaService

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