Customer Retention

Online Shoppers Expect More from Sellers

Ecommerce sellers may be delivering a sub-par shopping experience and not even know it, according to a survey of 1,000 American consumers.

The survey from Deloitte Digital in October 2023 is a good reminder of the longstanding gap in how merchants and shoppers perceive the ecommerce experience.

Photo of a male viewing a smartphone screen

Online merchants often overestimate customers’ admiration of shopping experiences.

Perception Gap

If the Deloitte Digital survey is accurate, about 80% of brands selling online “believe consumers are impressed by the online shopping experiences they provide. Yet fewer than half of consumers actually are.”

While that may seem shocking, it is not new.

One could argue that there has always been a gap between the perceptions of business leaders and their customers.

For example, a September 2015 Gartner article stated, “Employees are still seeing a vast gulf between the design and usability of the software they use outside work and the software they use in the workplace.”

The article noted that user-friendly consumer software had set new expectations among employees in the workspace.

Accounting and inventory management software are examples. Makers of that software thought the user experience was good; customers (employees) frequently did not.

Scholars and executives have long sought frameworks to identify the gap. Examples include W.E. Deming’s principles of Total Quality Management in Japan during the 1950s, SERVQUAL (assessing “SERVice” and “QUALity”), Six Sigma, and Net Promoter Score.

Why a Gap?

Having acknowledged the perception gap, we can wonder why.

The likely answer is that customer expectations quickly change. L.L.Bean and Amazon reset expectations when they pioneered free shipping. Soon, free shipping was not enough. It also needed to be fast. Then “fast shipping” evolved from five days to two days to one day, and now even the same day in some locations.

Online merchants — or really ecommerce platform developers — that improve the shopping experience set a new standard for their customers, thus the perception gap.

Take Action

The fact that shoppers always seek a better ecommerce experience should spur businesses to action for two reasons.

First, the gap could widen. Ecommerce sellers and platforms that do not meet shoppers’ expectations risk revenue losses or worse.

Second, closing the perception gap is a competitive opportunity. The Deloitte Digital survey found that “customers spend 37% more with brands they find deliver consistent and positive commerce experiences.”

Hence online sellers should regularly measure shoppers’ perceptions and update features accordingly.

Focus on Fundamentals

Taking action, however, does not mean chasing fads. Focus first on the essentials.

The Deloitte Digital survey identified four key ecommerce features where a perception gap exists, suggesting a selling opportunity.

For each of the four “gap” features, Deloitte reported the percentages of ecommerce businesses that believed shoppers were impressed versus the shoppers who agreed.

Ecommerce Feature or ServiceBrand PerceptionShopper Perception
Clear Inventory Availability77%54%
Easy Returns / Exchanges80%59%
Proactive Delivery Updates78%59%
Accurate Search and Discovery79%63%

Sellers should research why they overestimate the shopper’s favorable views.

Take “Accurate Search and Discovery,” which had the smallest perception gap in the survey.

A July 2022 report from the Baymard Institute, a customer-experience research firm, noted that 42% of the 133 “major” ecommerce stores it reviewed had site search issues, such as allowing shoppers to search by product type, i.e., a couch versus a chair.

So even a small perception gap creates opportunities to improve.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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