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Online retailers still have much to learn about customer experience, and are missing conversion opportunities by not producing more usable websites.

This is the verdict of FutureNow's 2007 Customer Experience Study, which looked at over 300 US e-commerce sites, and grading them on 69 customer experience factors.

The average score for these sites was a mediocre 43 out of 100, while the highest scoring site, SmartBargains.com, scored 67.

This means that there is much room for improvement, and Bryan Eisenberg on GrokDotCom has some superb recommendations for etailers. I'll list some of his key findings below... 

Product presentations

  • Persuasive writing is recommended for product descriptions - retailers should lead with the benefits of the product / service on offer and use more interesting verbs.
  • Quality product images are essential, and customers should ideally be able to see products from a range of different angles. Video should also be considered for some products.
  • Customer reviews provide valuable, independent information to help make purchase decisions and can have the effect of increasing trust in a website. The majority of reviews left online are positive, so retailers needn't fret, especially since the odd negative review makes the others appear credible.

Fulfillment

  • Customers shouldn't be forced to hunt around for key information on returns policies, delivery charges, and gift options.

    Make this information easy to access from product pages, as well as information on availability - customers should be advised if an item is out of stock, while an 'email me when in stock' option would be a bonus.

Checkout options

  • Multiple payment options are useful for increasing conversions. For customers without credit / debit cards, offering PayPal or other online payment methods is a good way to increase sales.
  • Other recommendations include delivery estimates, fewer steps in the checkout process, third party certification, and indicators of progress. See this post for more online checkout tips.

Customer service

  • Email response times need to improve - if a customer cannot get a product question answered quickly, then they will shop elsewhere.

    As this recent survey shows, UK firms need to improve, an average response time of 46 hours is very poor.

  • A visible phone number is absolutely essential for answering any queries, as well as being a mark of trust for any e-commerce site.

So why are companies failing to provide the best possible customer experience?

E-consultancy's recent Customer Engagement Report found that lack of time and resources was the most common reason, with 65% of company respondents citing this as a factor.

Other barriers to excellent customer experience were disconnected systems & technologies (50%), lack of skills and training (38%), lack of finance (37%) and a lack of regular processes (36%).

Related stories:
Top 10 most common e-commerce mistakes
Interview with persuasion expert Bryan Eisenberg 

Graham Charlton

Published 10 December, 2007 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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