The Satisfaction Death Valley that Awaits Online Retailers in 2020
Updated: Jan 15
So you clicked the 'Buy' button. Christmas is fast approaching and that gadget you intended to put under the tree still hasn’t arrived. Or maybe it came on time, but not it's not the color you ordered. Now you have to start the process of returning it! Bad feelings are starting to build up…
Fact is, these kinds of negative post-purchase experiences happen thousands of times a day, all over the country, and most brands will never be aware of them. Worse, brands have no control over the customer experience once the item leaves their warehouse, as the last mile is handled by third-party logistics companies. For online retailers, this is a very risky business. Every package delivery is an opportunity to make a customer unhappy, and maybe lose them altogether.
The Gap Between a Good and Bad Online Shopping Experience
Up until the 'Buy' click, the customer is having a great time! So great, they even decided to purchase. But then they hit the post-purchase stage, and everything starts to go downhill - real fast.
From the ‘Buy’ click to the fulfillment and delivery stage of the online purchase, a gap opens up, as the customer moves from a good brand experience to a bad one. This gap is what we call the “Satisfaction Death Valley.” The customer starts out feeling great, but the further along they go on their journey, the worse things get.
As the volume of online shopping grows, bad post-purchase experiences are accumulating and threatening the perception and profitability of more and more brands. There are so many ways the post-purchase phase can go wrong, and no online retailer is immune.
Bad post-purchase experiences? Let me count the ways:
Long waits, late deliveries
Especially in the holiday season, the industry is plagued with long waits and late delivery, and this only accelerates the negative impact on brands during crucial shopping periods. In an attempt to curb the damage, retailers try to shorten waiting times, overloading fulfillment centers with more and more packages until errors and mixups become an inevitability.
Same-day delivery expectations
Same-day delivery has become the norm for online retailers, if not by choice, then by competition. But the growth of same-day delivery offerings only makes customer expectations more extreme. Customers expect their online purchases to arrive sooner, more smoothly, and with less hassle.
Then, there’s the constantly growing challenge of free returns. Today, returns of wrongly matched or wrongly fulfilled products make up over 20% of the logistics expenses in online retail. With costs running so high, retailers search for creative ways to reduce the volume of returned goods - but almost nothing is done to alleviate the hassle to the customer of returning the package in the first place.
Complicated returns process
New research shows that customers experience a ton of frustration when they receive the wrong product, size or color. The tedious process of returning it only makes the situation worse, and in many cases, the customer simply gives up. But the whole episode is not forgotten. The customer loses trust in the brand that caused them to waste so much time and money, and the brand is devalued in their eyes. This is very difficult to reverse.
Don’t fall into the death valley
Who suffers the most from these post-purchase challenges? Direct-to-consumer brands. D2C brands were born to replace the brick-and-mortar store, recreating the real-life shopping experience with an intimate, one-on-one relationship with customers that happens totally online (Amazon anyone?).
However, this is a steep hill to climb and most brands don’t live up to expectations. The step beyond these frustrating fulfillment and post-purchase experiences is a freefall into the customer satisfaction death valley.
The brand-customer relationship is too vital to put at risk. That’s why online retailers, especially those who offer D2C services, must find ways to creatively control and enhance the customer experience beyond the Buy button.