Picture: 123RF/MEL POMEN
Picture: 123RF/MEL POMEN

In SA the uptake of e-commerce has traditionally lagged global trends. That changed with the Covid pandemic; last year Nielsen reported that online shopping in SA had jumped 9% to 44%.

However, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that many businesses that offer online shopping have not made sufficient investments in their e-commerce platforms. This leads to online shoppers being left frustrated and disappointed, says BMi Research general manager for consumer behaviour & business insights Jenni-Ruth Coggin.

This, Coggin adds, is eroding brand loyalty and potentially driving previously loyal customers to competitors.

Last year BMi Research conducted the CX Online pilot study, which surveyed online e-commerce stores. Ten experienced online mystery shoppers evaluated each store. The study was part of the launch of the company’s CX Online solution, which measures and helps companies improve their customers’ online shopping experience.

“Among the most frustrating elements our mystery shoppers reported were poorly executed search and navigation engines, out-of-stock promotional items and inadequate distribution mechanisms," says Coggin. “Most stores don’t realise how bad their e-commerce sites are or that their search engines are woefully inadequate. In many instances stores have made a one-off investment and believe it’s sufficient, but their sites fail to take the entire online customer experience into account. If a shopper can’t find the item they are looking for quickly and easily they will soon try a different store.”

Mystery shoppers reported that though promotional items were easy to find, only 55% of such items were in stock. Shoppers were informed of this out-of-stock status at different stages of the shopping cycle, depending on which site they were on. Some sites informed the shopper from the outset, some did so only when shoppers were trying to put the item in their basket. In other cases customers were informed only at check-out that an item was out of stock. One platform revealed that an item was out of stock only at the delivery stage, long after the item had been paid for – much to the chagrin of the shopper.

“Online retailers are battling to reconcile their offline and online distribution chains,” says Coggin. “In the offline space the items are scanned at the till and the system automatically recounts available stock, updating the data on a daily basis. In the online space, consumers are able to shop 24 hours a day, but systems have not been adjusted to update stock data more frequently.”

Coggin says that when products – particularly promotional items – are consistently out of stock it not only erodes brand loyalty but dilutes trust in the store and reduces customer loyalty.

“Stores that have not made sufficient investments in their e-commerce platforms and stock control systems are likely to experience eroding market share as online shoppers migrate to those e-commerce sites that offer a more satisfying consumer experience,” says Coggin.

The big take-out:

E-commerce sites are not taking the entire online customer experience into account, leaving consumers frustrated and potentially eroding brand loyalty.

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