Amidst all the froth and fuss surrounding the move to cross-channel retail, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the fact that a merchant’s digital presence ultimately needs to be judged on whether it’s effective. The most stylish websites and interfaces don’t do their job if customers won’t part with money after visiting. All the talk in the world about grand strategies, moving into new markets and the rise of new devices as sales channels can’t hide this fact.
So are retailers acknowledging this truth? On the balance of what we’ve found researching this latest Internet Retailing supplement, we’d offer a guarded yes to this question. Perhaps in part because economic conditions continue to be so difficult that commentators now routinely talk about a new normal of low growth and even stagnation, retailers are having to look hard at the bottom line. This has meant a new focus on the whole area of payment and fraud.
There’s also a new sophistication around the fraud part of this equation. As we discovered researching the logistics feature, companies are no longer prepared to run the risk of turning away valid customers for the sake of avoiding a few bad transactions. Instead, there’s a pragmatic recognition that merchants need to accept a certain level of loss in order to drive sales. Make a website too difficult to use and it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that customers won’t use it.
In addition, forward-looking retailers are fully aware of changes just over the horizon. The world of e-wallets, mobile payments and near-field communication may be in its infancy but larger companies especially are already preparing for this new reality.
Furthermore, as retailers begin to expand overseas, many have gained experience of the problems around the different payment options that are expected in different territories. Granted, companies may be understandably nervous of, for example, the Chinese liking for cash-on-delivery shipments where customers pay the postman for goods, but they’re still acutely aware that there’s an opportunity in this vast new market.
Against that, payments and fraud still remain an unglamorous afterthought for too many within the ecommerce sphere. This attitude needs to change.
As we discovered when talking to usability experts for the interface and design feature, fine-tuning the layout of checkout pages can add significantly to sales. This may not be as sexy as organising a marketing campaign, but it may ultimately yield more returns for the company.
Finally, while news of the decline in PC usage is clearly recognised within the industry, there’s arguably not enough recognition of what this means. Where once ecommerce professionals could assume they were going to push customers down a sales funnel, and that the customer would have easy access to a keyboard to type in personal details and credit card numbers, that’s no longer the case. While the cardinal rule that the checkout process needs to be as quick and easy as possible remains, retailers need to recognise that this may involve designing a slick checkout process that’s optimised for a tablet. Quite what best practice here will look like, we’re not yet sure but retailers still need to be thinking ahead to this day.
This supplement is the latest in Internet Retailing’s ongoing series. Each explores questions facing e-retailers today through six key aspects: interface and design, merchandising, cross-channel experience, logistics, strategy and customer engagement. We welcome your input and suggestions for future themes at email@example.com.
Chloe Rigby and Jonathan Wright