Daily Archives: October 29, 2008

Online retail customers’ increasing expectations

Customers today expect the same amount of customer service online as they do in face to face retail stores.  After successful transactions with the major online retailers, certain amenities are expected by the customer.  Below is an outline of trends I’ve noticed while running our online supplement business over the past few years.  If you feel there is something I missed, please add a comment.

1. A professional appearing website that is easy to use. The streamlined checkout process is very important as it is where customers usually get frustrated as they experience troubles entering their credit card information.

2. A customer service phone number is expected. Customers who cannot wait or don’t have patience for electronic communication require a phone number.  If you won’t have a phone number, then will contact you via your contact form and request (sometimes demand) a call back.  Nine out of ten times a customer demands a phone number is when they are upset about something.  The issue can be resolved just as easily over electronic means, but they insist on making somebody else’s day miserable by yelling at them over the phone.  I remember my dad saying when the internet first came about “I like to buy locally so I can go back and yell at somebody when they screw up.”

3. Fast, cheap shipping. One thing every customer can agree on – they all hate to pay shipping costs.  However, they all want the cheapest price and the best service.  I’ve heard many times in the business world when it comes to the lowest price, best product, and best service is that you can have two of the three, but not all three (unless you want to go out of business b/c you’re not making any money).  On my supplement websites, I set the product price as low as I can and ask that the customer pay the shipping cost.  I pass our UPS discount onto customers; they pay less than what it would cost to walk up to UPS and ship something themselves.  However, it’s still too expensive according to the bizrate survey’s we get from customers after purchases.  I’ve run promotions where shipping expenses are cut by 40% (we take the loss) and customers’ biggest complaint is still the shipping cost.  Many websites will give the customer flat rate shipping of $4.99 or even free shipping over $50.  Selling supplements online is extremely competitive since it’s a standard product that anybody could sell; offering free shipping will either create a loss for the website or they make it up in their product price.

4. A tracking number is required. If you don’t send a customer a tracking number, they’ll contact you and ask for it.  When I started around 2005, about 25% of customers would contact us asking for a tracking number.  That increased dramatically to about 60% by mid 2006 where I finally programmed in an automated tracking number system for customers.  The delay on this system is 24 – 36 hours after your order, which is many times still not fast enough for customers.

5. They needed it yesterday and they need something for free. When customers do contact us via email, the trend over the past couple years as been less and less patience.  We get more emails containing a dozen exclamation points and capital letters and customers that do not work with you on the issue, such as an invalid shipping address.  Some customers purposely turn a minor issue a big deal just so they can get something for free, like free one day shipping or the whole order free of charge.  With my little side business of slim margins, I don’t put up with it.  I just canceled a lady’s order the other day for this very reason.  It’s not worth the headache.  That’s probably the wrong thing to do, but since I don’t rely on the business as a source of income, I can make this choice since the time and effort invested in her problem is not worth my time ;).  I don’t care to have these customers as return customers either because they will continue to blow up at the slightest problem and expect you to give them the world.

The customer’s expectation of online retail is getting closer to the brick and mortar stores everyday.  They need the prouduct immediately, impecible communication and service, and at the lowest possible cost.

DRY – Don’t Repeat Yourself!

Ever heard that term?  It’s pretty simple really, but there are still many developers out there that don’t get it.  Below is only HALF of the code somebody wrote to change one word in a hyperlink and alter the background color of the row.  The code is too small to read, but you can get the gist of it by noticing how each block of code appears to have been copied from the previous.  This functionality will be rewritten in PHP using 1/10th of the amount of code.