The Networked Customer Demands a Networked Service


The pace of change in eCommerce is rapid, propelled by technology innovation and the constant desire to serve the consumer. Among the many other challenges faced by retailers over the past year has been the need to keep up with multi-device using customers whose behaviour has shifted along with the mass exodus from corporate offices to home offices or, even just to home.

The customer journey in the digital age is more complex than ever. The first stage could start on the sofa using a tablet to browse different options. The customer might send a link to a friend via WhatsApp or email to solicit their opinion, and in the meantime ask Alexa how much the product would cost on Amazon Marketplace. After checking out alternatives on a mobile phone, this particular journey could end at the online checkout while the customer is using a desktop PC. It could just as easily end in a physical store at the point of sale.

The retailer can track the number of times the customer interacts with their eCommerce platform during the journey, but what they are less likely to know is all the different devices they are using along the way.

The complexities of the journey

Apart from ensuring that a website is equally responsive and navigable on every device, it would be easy to think that it doesn’t matter what devices customers are using. But in fact the omnichannel nature of the journey makes it difficult to interpret the available data on customer behaviour in such a way that it forms a solid basis for planning. And worse, it can easily lead to false conclusions.

It is commonly accepted that before completing a single purchase, the consumer makes a total of 25 visits to all the eCommerce outlets he or she came across while searching. And that is only the average: the result could be an even higher number — or a lower conversion rate. So what’s really going on?

The term customer journey is something of a three steps forward-two-steps back approach. First, customers compare products, then prices, conditions and delivery times of different suppliers and then they return to those that made it onto their shortlist. Identical items can be placed into the shopping baskets of three or four different merchants at the same time. If something more important comes up for the customer, it could be a week before they find the time to complete the purchase. And when they do, it’s possible that the special offer they wanted has expired, the price has changed, and they’re back to square one.

The unique selling point that differentiates one retailer from another in today’s dynamic shopping environment, is simply not fixed. It can be confusing for shoppers, and equally confusing for retailers who are trying to track their customer base.

The cloudification of the shopping basket

The focus of development is on improving the user experience on mobile devices, and progress is being made with the use of cookies which are changing the shopping experience so that the contents of a shopping basket remain stored in the cloud, awaiting the customer’s decision to purchase, regardless of the device they are using at the time.

Ideally, we want to get to a point where the ‘persistent shopping basket’ is available and supported by suppliers of fashion, footwear, sports, outdoor, leisure and DIY products and available across all devices.

The crux of the matter is the automatic recognition of the consumer. On Amazon and eBay this is easy because customers almost always log in before browsing the web and the mobile app also ensures automatic log-in. Apple users have iCloud, which provides a password manager so that even automatically generated hex code passwords — that no-one wants to enter via a smartphone touch keypad — can be inserted conveniently and biometrically secured.

Facilitating omnichannel payment

Of course browsing and selecting products is not the only consideration when it comes to omnichannel and consolidating payment mechanisms is essential if the user journey is to be frictionless and secure. Payment methods traditionally offered at the in-store point of sale are not always the same as those online and because of legacy systems, many retailers continue to use different payment service providers (PSPs) for those in-store transactions than for goods purchased online. As a result, they are storing up problems for themselves.

These can be overcome by locating payment and data with a service provider who supports eCommerce, mCommerce and physical POS systems from a single source anywhere in the world using common technology. This guarantees true omnichannel reporting with consolidated evaluation of all sales and transactions, wherever they occur.

The other important element is that at the point of payment customer and card data must be protected. In store retailers should use terminals at the POS that support the P2PE security standard of the major card brands, ensuring that data is encrypted. However, online retailers must now start to implement Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), the standard developed under the payment Services Directive (PSD2) to enhance the security of credit and debit card payments.

Devices, payment methods and regulations will further evolve, just as consumer shopping habit will. It is quite feasible that over the next year or two voice commerce (picking up on the earlier comment about asking for help from Alexa) will become more commonplace, and yet another channel will be added to the omni-mix. Ultimately customers want the convenience of buying what they want, when they want it, where they want it, and pay for it in a way that suits them, and technology innovation is there to service their needs.

By Nick Sonnex, VP Sales International at Computop