How digital shopping trends impact the customer experience

Digital Shopping Trends Are Here to Stay: What It Means for Your Customer Experience

Emily GregorLast updated on January 2, 2024
13 min

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Whether it’s because they need something, they can’t pass up a great deal, or they’re craving a bit of retail therapy, people shop for many reasons. Over time, we’ve seen the shopping trend steadily move toward digital shopping instead of running out to the nearest mall.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have been even more motivated to buy everything from big items like cars and homes to everyday items like toilet paper from e-commerce sites like Amazon, Target, and Walmart to delivery services like InstaCart and Shipt. With no signs of a slowdown since, this shows how swiftly shopping trends can change direction.

Despite the changes in the shopping experience, what hasn’t changed is the importance of the customer. To that end, we’ll clarify how to define a good customer experience, describe ways to measure it, and map out how to create a stronger e-commerce experience for digital shoppers.

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Why Are Digital Shopping Trends Relevant?

Digital shopping trends are constantly evolving, meaning they can shift at any moment. By staying on top of current digital shopping trends, your e-commerce business will be in a good position to offer multiple touchpoints for your customers, meet them wherever they are, and develop your current and future strategies.

With that in mind, let’s look at some current digital shopping trends.

E-commerce has disrupted the retail industry in recent years. We know that digital shopping was gaining popularity even before COVID, but after the pandemic, e-commerce usage rose steeply as shoppers avoided in-person activities.

What are the takeaways for e-commerce businesses?

For one, shoppers have gotten better acquainted with digital shopping and they like it. We’ve also learned that small businesses need to meet customers where they’re at because it just takes a click for a customer to switch to a competitor.

Why Data on Digital Shopping Trends Is Important

With digital transformation, it’s possible for your e-commerce business to understand how customer expectations have changed and how their expectations have impacted the customer journey.

Here’s a list of reasons data on digital shopping trends is important:

  • Informs marketers on what customers want and where to reach them

  • Identifies multiple potential touchpoints where you can influence consumers

  • Helps you meet consumers where they are (at home, curbside, in a store, on the go, etc.)

  • Enables you to offer customers relevant choices

  • Tells you when you need to scale and by how much

  • Enables you to leverage innovation (video ads, augmented reality, virtual reality try-ons, etc.)

  • Provides customer details that help you personalize communications

You have to keep looking ahead to ensure the future success of your e-commerce business. Keeping up with digital shopping trends will help you strategize and plan for the future—and you won’t risk falling behind the competition. It’s crucial to stay in the loop when it comes to trends. As we’ve seen from the impact of COVID, trends can change overnight.

COVID-19’s Impact on Digital Shopping Trends

In the beginning, COVID-19 generated a lot of fear. When it came to shopping, customers feared they wouldn’t be able to get the things they needed, and retailers feared they wouldn’t be able to get goods to consumers who couldn’t or wouldn’t come into their facilities.

Ultimately, consumers shifted their thinking from, “What if I can’t get it?” to “Can I order it online and pick it up at the store or have it shipped?” and started thinking outside the box on every purchase. Rather than go to the gym, they bought fitness equipment online or invested in at-home workout apps. Instead of going to grocery stores, consumers switched to grocers that delivered or offered curbside and contactless pickup.

While sales in brick-and-mortar stores took a nosedive, sales in online stores trended sharply upward.

  • 16% of U.S. retail sales were completed online in 2020

  • 36% of sales in the U.K. were completed online in 2020

  • China estimates that about half of its sales will be online in 2021

It’s worth noting again that e-commerce sales were trending upward even before COVID took hold. Dating back to 2018, e-commerce sales grew 15%, which represented 14.3% of total retail sales. The upward trend probably would have continued growing steadily, but if COVID hadn’t occurred, it would have taken much longer to reach the current levels.

On that note, e-commerce sales are projected to increase from $4.9 trillion in 2021 to $6.4 trillion in 2024. That tells us that consumers have picked up some new shopping habits, and they’re not letting go of digital shopping any time soon.

How Retailers Can Adapt to Digital Shopping Trends

Does that mean the end for brick-and-mortar stores? Not necessarily. There are a lot of things to like about on-site retail stores. People like to see and feel new products. They like knowing they can walk out of the store with an item in their hands. For many people, shopping is a social activity. It provides an opportunity to get out of the house for a while and spend time with friends.

To keep customers walking through their doors, on-site retailers put a few tricks up their sleeves. A few stores even found that they could actually save money by transforming the way they deliver services to customers.

Target Prioritizes Alternate Fulfillment Strategies

Some stores shifted their resources so they could double down as a logistic hub. Rather than have separate operations (management, inventory, shipping, etc.) for e-commerce and physical locations, they set up stores to act as a hub for both. Take Target, for example. Target’s stores fulfilled over 95% of its sales in its third quarter. That’s about the same percentage of sales fulfilled during the holidays (normally its busiest time of year).

What’s more, Target learned that people like curbside pickup because they don’t have to get out of their cars. Target also found that it wound up being a greener alternative, considering people live fairly close to stores, and about 90% cheaper than sending products out for delivery from a warehouse.

CBRE Lowers the Costs of Returns

Commercial real estate firm CBRE says that warehouse space for e-commerce businesses is in short supply because of a steep increase in online sales and returns after COVID-19.

CBRE predicts e-commerce returns could add up to $70.5 billion, which is up 75% compared to the previous five-year average. Rather than incurring return shipping costs, the company saved more when customers returned purchased items in-store. Store returns also resulted in fewer lost and damaged goods.

On another note, store returns get customers into the store to buy more things. The fact that merchandise is strategically placed around the service/return desk isn’t a coincidence.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Creates a Memorable Retail Experience

In a “go big or go home” move, Dick’s Sporting Goods took an experiential approach to drive customers back through its doors. With a 17,000-square-foot outdoor turf field, climbing wall, and other sports amenities, Dick’s created what it calls the House of Sport. It also set up events where fans can come to meet their favorite athletes.

At the end of the day, customers had to get used to different customer experiences than they were accustomed to. E-commerce retailers and on-site stores that came through for them quickly gave customers a lot to rave about.

What Defines a Great E-Commerce Experience?

Businesses used to say that a good product sells itself. That’s still partially true, but customers look for several additional characteristics before settling on a brand and remaining loyal to it.

Beyond expecting a quality, useful product, customers want a few other things, including:

  • Good value for their money

  • Information and products that are easy to find (specs, availability, prices, etc.)

  • Websites that load quickly

  • Knowledgeable sales reps

  • Convenience

  • Fast shipping

  • Good customer support that helps with their problems

  • Sales reps and support agents that are friendly and professional

  • Multi-channel communications

  • A business they can trust

When these factors are combined, they help to create a high-quality customer experience.

Contrary to past marketing beliefs, your company can’t survive in today’s market based on the quality of your products alone, awesome as they may be. A good customer experience tops the list of the most important reasons consumers buy your brand.

To expand on the definition of a good e-commerce customer experience, imagine an umbrella that covers every touchpoint, interaction, emotion, and feeling that happens between a customer and your brand. Now imagine those things from the customer’s perspective. If it sounds like a broad definition, it is.

A customer’s experience starts from the moment they hear about your brand or view one of your ads until they make a final decision to stop interacting with your business. When you provide a good customer experience, hopefully, that span will be for a long time! If it’s not, hopefully, you’ll have an opportunity to win their trust back in the future. Remember that your customer is still your customer after you close a sale.

How to Keep Your Customers Engaged

  • Use automation for outreach.

  • Be proactive and send customers updates on products and events.

  • Offer them regular and special sales promotions and offers.

  • Reach out to them via various channels like email and text message (don’t forget they have to opt-in).

  • Develop new programs to interact with them.

  • Set up events and invite them.

  • Brainstorm other initiatives that add value to your relationship with them.

  • Use automated surveys to gather feedback from happy and unhappy customers.

  • Decide how to respond to their input.

With all the time and effort you put into delivering a good customer experience, you’ll want to make sure it’s paying off. Thanks to digital transformation, you have objective ways to see how your efforts are measuring up.

How Is Customer Experience Measured?

In the interest of measuring the customer experience, you’ll want to get acquainted with words like metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators) and software programs that give you data to evaluate the customer experience.

Customers interact with your brand in various ways and various places when making purchases, including in stores, on the phone, and online. Every interaction is worth measuring customer satisfaction. By putting processes in place to gather customer feedback and evaluate the results, you’ll get a better pulse on how customers feel about your brand. If it’s not good news, you’ll have an opportunity to make changes before more negative feedback comes in.

When you use a unified communication system that includes a cloud phone system and software integrations including your CRM or helpdesk software, you can easily add automated survey software to your digital ecosystem.

Automated survey software makes it easy for customers to provide feedback and even easier for your company to evaluate it. The three most popular metrics for evaluating the customer experience are the Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction Rate (CSAT), and Customer Effort Score (CES).

1. Net Promoter Score (NPS)

The Net Promoter Score is one of the easiest metrics for gauging customer satisfaction because it’s a simple question and customers don’t usually mind answering it. Generally, the question is something like, “How likely are you to recommend this product to a friend, colleague, or family member?”

Customers rate their experience on a scale from 1 to 10. A rating of 1 to 6 indicates detractors, 7 to 8 indicates passives, and 9 to 10 means you have brand promoters.

To get your overall rating, simply subtract the percentage of your detractors from the percentage of your promoters.

2. Customer Satisfaction Rate (CSAT)

To find out how satisfied your customers are, create questions for your surveys that ask specific questions and ask for a rating of 1 through 5 as follows:

1. Very unsatisfied
2. Unsatisfied
3. Neutral
4. Satisfied
5. Very satisfied

To get your percentage score, divide the number of satisfied and very satisfied customers by the total number of responses and then multiply by 100.

3. Customer Effort Score (CES)

The concept behind this metric is to learn how much effort customers made to interact with your products. It tells you how smooth your e-commerce workflows are. All you have to do is ask your customers how easy it was to interact with your products and add a rating scale from 1 to 7.

Allow them to choose from the following answers:

1. Extremely easy
2. Very easy
3. Fairly easy
4. Neither
5. Fairly difficult
6. Very difficult
7. Extremely difficult

Divide the sum total of all your scores by the number of people who submitted responses to get your CES score. Low scores mean you’re doing great!

Measuring the customer experience is just one of many advantages that you get with digital transformation. Next, we’ll run through even more ways to create a stronger e-commerce experience.

How to Create a Stronger E-Commerce Experience for Digital Shoppers

Across every industry, 73% of consumers agree that the customer experience plays a key role in their decision to buy something. That means that, in today’s market, you must take a data-driven, customer-centric approach to ensure a good customer experience in the e-commerce industry—whether you’re selling children’s toys, luxury jewelry, or eco-friendly cleaning products.

It all begins with a digital transformation action plan. Since the e-commerce customer experience is so important, we’re offering seven tips for creating an impactful experience for your customers when they’re shopping on your website.

7 Tips for Creating an Impactful Customer Experience

1. Shift your retail experience to drive digital growth. Target is just one brand that’s proven how successful this strategy can be right now.

2. Ensure your customer service teams deeply understand your products. Align your marketing, sales, and support teams so everyone is on the same page.

3. Build a mobile-first e-commerce site. Shopify built its e-commerce site mobile-first before optimizing it for desktop, and it’s been highly successful. Mobile e-commerce spending was nearly $39 billion in the first quarter of 2019, and e-commerce has now become even more popular on mobile devices.

4. Study the customer journey. Use digital tools like Aircall that provide customized reports full of details to give you insight into consumer shopping behavior.

5. Keep digital shoppers engaged with your brand. Be proactive with follow-up campaigns via email, phone, or text. Use knowledge bases and other tools to be responsive on inbound calls.

6. Simplify the checkout process. Shopify has an easy, intuitive shopping cart platform, and when you use it with Aircall, order information displays right inside the Aircall app.

7. Survey your customers. Select the right survey software to obtain NPS, CSAT, or CES ratings.

Key Takeaways

To wrap things up: People are always going to buy things, either because they need them or because they want them. Since the coronavirus pandemic, customers are leaning more toward e-commerce than ever before, which means more customers to serve and increased competition.

To be successful in this new normal, your e-commerce company has to deliver a great customer experience that helps you stand out from the other options online.

The only way to be sure you’re doing that well is to use digital tools to measure it. There has never been a better time for your e-commerce business to create a digital transformation action plan or accelerate implementing your existing plan.

Get your online customer experience right, and you’ll be setting yourself up for success in the new, digital-first world of retail.

Published on May 26, 2021.

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