Picture: 123RF/ RVLSOFT
Picture: 123RF/ RVLSOFT

The Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged greater online engagement between retailers and their customers — particularly in the e-commerce space. However, problems in the digital experience need to be addressed by brands if these new-found audiences are to become long-lasting customers.

That’s the main finding in the "2020 South African Digital Customer Experience Report", led by digital marketing agency Rogerwilco. The survey polled 2,000 consumers mainly in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, and says there is little excuse for having a slow site or app in these days of low-cost, elastic cloud-based hosting.

The study says it remains a concern that so many consumers cite a lack of suitably descriptive content as a major obstacle in their path to purchasing a product. The research also shows that when consumers have a positive encounter with a brand, they become advocates who will gladly share news of their experience.

Rogerwilco CEO Charlie Stewart says: "At a tactical level, e-commerce sites should add a product review feature and prompt the consumer post-purchase to rate the product. Brands like Amazon, Yuppiechef and Takealot do this to great effect. But hardly anyone else does. If the best e-commerce platforms in the world do it, it’s almost beyond comprehension that challenger e-commerce players aren’t doing it." Brands, says Stewart, should be using social media far more effectively and need to rethink their budget allocations at a strategic level.

"The study provides tangible proof of the value of advocacy. For too long, customer retention has been the poor cousin to acquisition. It’s easier for marketers to define ROI [return on investment] from an existing customer base than it is when targeting prospects."

One of the perennial questions in this field is whether better brand experiences cost more, and how brands need to budget for this. Says Stewart: "Over 40% of our respondents complained about clunky websites and apps. In a world where cloud hosting is cheap and highly scalable, there’s no excuse for slow page load times. And about a third felt that product information and pictures weren’t up to scratch. These are fundamentals which are neither difficult nor expensive to address."

Stewart believes that one area where brands need to make a substantial investment is in organising data. "Years ago, a butcher would greet you by name and have a friendly chat when you popped into his shop to buy your sausages. While that level of personalisation fell away in the world of hypermarkets and retail-at-scale, it’s coming back fast with digital. And brands can’t afford to get it wrong with misaddressed e-mails, unaligned content and product recommendations — or worse, data privacy breaches."

Stewart says it’s been interesting to see how brands have adapted during the lockdown. "The digital-first brands have found it easier, but some omnichannel ones have done really well to adjust models."

The grocers are an excellent case in point. While they’ve all had e-commerce plays for ages, they were caught flat-footed by delivery requirements, which created negative consumer sentiment.

That said, the way Woolworths accelerated its plans for a click-and-collect service and rolled it out in three weeks was impressive.

Covid-19 has catalysed a significant move to digital, and it’s likely to be a far-reaching one. The airlines will have to put on their thinking caps as business travel will never be the same; executive education will change forever; and gyms are going to have to come up with a stronger online offering.

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