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GUEST OPINION How to create an optimised approach for e-tailers in a multi-channel world

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Having just published a white paper on multi-channel retailing, Chase Paymentech’s President and Managing Director Shane Fitzpatrick shares his insight and research, and provides advice on what e-commerce retailers need to consider to optimise their approach in a multi-channel world.

Consumers are changing their online shopping habits. For e-tailers to survive and thrive, they must adapt to this new normal. A recent survey conducted by Chase Paymentech showed that nearly two thirds of UK consumers have changed their shopping habits in the past 12 months.

E-commerce continues to grow in popularity, with 41% of consumers saying that they use the internet to make purchases more than they did a year ago. The report suggests that m-commerce has become an established channel with 30% of those aged 25-34 already finding their mobile to be the easiest way to shop. These changes in consumer behaviour reflect the impressive growth of m-commerce across Europe, according to Dynamic Markets: The Changing CNP Payment Landscape, published in March 2012.

Today, more than half of consumers in the UK own a smartphone that enables them to research, browse, compare prices and make payments wherever they like, according to eDigital Research/IMRG.

The multi-channel journey

With a growing number of consumers using their laptops and mobile devices to shop, one can expect shoppers to frequently switch between channels. While many shoppers find it convenient to start their shopping journey on their computer or mobile phone, they may often prefer to use another channel to research, buy and collect their purchase.

Forrester Consulting confirmed that while most multi-channel shoppers will choose to start their research online using a search engine, this doesn’t mean that they will complete their purchase using the same channel. Multi-channel shoppers are just as likely to buy in-store as they are to buy using their computer or mobile device. Some prefer to do their research online but buy offline (42%), others would rather go into a store or test out products before buying online (35%), while a smaller number use their mobile phone to research products before buying on their computer (8%), says Forrester Consulting.

This presents both an opportunity and a threat for e-commerce retailers at a time when many consumers are still forming their mobile shopping habits.

High customer expectations

From the multi-channel customer’s point of view, using a mobile site or app should be just as easy as visiting an e-commerce site. In a revealing poll of mobile consumers undertaken by Harris Interactive on behalf of Tealeaf (Source: Improving the Customer Experience for Mobile Consumers, February 2011), more than half of those questioned expect their shopping experience on a mobile phone to be better than shopping in-store (51%) or using a desktop computer (52%).

Today, consumers are empowered with so many mobile sites and apps at their fingertips that they can combine online and in-store channels to create a unique and personalised customer journey. To convert a multi-channel shopper into a loyal customer, merchants need to deliver a consistent customer experience across every channel.

It appears that consumers no longer see a distinction between online, web mobile and apps. Instead they tend to see these e-tail channels as a single online experience. However, mobile consumers can be quick to abandon a transaction, but they are also likely to tell others about their poor experience. The aforementioned Harris survey found that when mobile consumers have a problem, 29% try later on a computer, 17% complain to customer service and 13% try a competitor’s app or site. Even worse, half of dissatisfied customers would go on to share their experience through social media and even more (61%) would discourage friends and family from using that website or app or doing business with the same retailer.

With multi-channel consumers already expecting a seamless customer experience across all e-tail channels, it is perhaps surprising that an estimated 25% of annual online revenue is lost as a result of poor user experience which leads to site abandonment; equivalent to £14 billion lost in the UK every year, according to EConsultancy/Tealeaf. In order to improve the customer experience, e-tailers need to understand their customers’ multi-channel journey and how different channels are helping or hindering customers with their decision-making and ultimate purchase.

Multi-channel considerations

E-commerce merchants may consider offering a simple, easy-to-use, fast and information-rich experience that is consistent across every channel and ensures a frustration-free payment experience. Here is a quick checklist:

1. Staged approach – Consider every stage of the customer experience from first impression through to purchase and payment. Discover where customers may struggle. Bad navigation and poor product search can be two common problems encountered by customers.

2. Single experience – Because multi-channel shoppers regard e-commerce and m-commerce channels as part of a single experience, ensure the website, mobile web and app have the same branding and offer a similar layout, information and features. Detailed product descriptions, high-quality images, zoom features and video (especially on tablet devices) are becoming increasingly important for customer engagement.

3. Make payments simple – In the Chase Paymentech survey, 25% of consumers said they found it too difficult to enter payment details on their mobile phone. (Source: Dynamic Markets: The Changing CNP Payment Landscape, March 2012) Keeping the mandatory information required to make a purchase on a mobile phone to a minimum, for example offering customers the choice of registering an account at a later date from a computer rather than on their phone, may help improve the customer experience at checkout.

Optimising your payments strategy

Ultimately, shopping by mobile or another online channel should be easier than visiting a physical store. Optimise your payments strategy to deliver a seamless customer experience. After all, nobody expects a customer to type in their card number, CVV security code, expiry date and billing address every time they buy something in a high street shop. Online merchants should aspire to the same level of ease for their customers. There has been much debate about the use of mobile sites versus apps – and it appears that both channels have a role to play in improving the online customer experience.

E-tailers should personalise their customers’ experience based on their preferences, purchasing history and behaviour. Enable choices made by the customer through one channel to be stored and made available from other devices to help maximise cart conversion. For example, allow users to add something to their cart using their mobile phone but checkout through their computer.

As part of an optimised payments strategy, consider using a secure and compliant method to store account and card details to keep the information required from a returning customer to a minimum. Also consider alternative methods of payment to offer customers more choice and put measures in place to avoid recurring payments being declined.

Finally, many customers have concerns about making transactions through their mobile phone. A seamless transition from your e-commerce or m-commerce site to your payment site may help to reassure customers about security. Consider alternative strategies for data security, such as tokenisation, that do not require the storage of cardholder details on your internal systems.

Click here for more information about how to keep up with consumers changing spending habits.

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