Online Retail Trends: The Rise of End-to-End Customer Experiences

What do you get when you combine the power of personalization and customization with a multi-channel marketing and inventory strategy? A complete end-to-end customer experience (CX) that helps your brand compete in the growing, saturated online retail market.

The increased need for end-to-end customer experiences across all channels is not new. Yes, the pandemic pushed more businesses into upgrading digital customer experiences quicker, but the trajectory was always the same:

  • Meeting customers where they are and guiding them smoothly through the online journey to after-sales services to increase loyal, repeat customer segments for longer sustained growth.

And if you’re not investing heavily in end-to-end customer experiences? Revenue and long-term customer growth loss. Even if you are an established online brand with high return customer rates, 80% of your customers would likely abandon you after three bad experiences.

So, how do you capitalize on this fast-growing online retail trend? We’ve got you covered.

In this guide, we will take you through the top end-to-end customer experience strategies and trends for online retailers, including:

  1. Increased Competition as Brick-and-Mortars Go Digital
  2. More Complex Shopping Journeys
  3. Evolving Customer Expectations of Connected Shoppers
  4. Integrating Marketing KPIs into Logistics Strategies
  5. Customer Loyalty and Lifetime Value Increased Involvement in Retail Growth

But first, let’s quickly talk about what end-to-end customer experiences are in terms of eCommerce, how CX differs from UX, and the benefits of investing heavily into customer experience and satisfaction.

(Feel free to jump ahead to end-to-end customer experiences strategies and trends, here.)

What Is End-to-End Customer Experience?

End-to-end customer experience is about looking at all customer touchpoints as a whole, instead of separate experiences. Think of it as the “bigger picture,” which includes every step to customer loyalty, from thought to purchase to after-sales support and feedback.

For instance, let’s say you’re an online fashion retailer. Your end-to-end customer experience would consider your online store, marketplaces, social media shops, digital marketing strategies, and email marketing as one immersive customer journey.

End-to-end customer experience is about more than just satisfying your customers throughout their entire journey. It’s about meeting your customer where they are (channel), with the right experience (personalized product, service, or answer) at the right time. Not just to make the journey to checkout as smooth as possible, but to increase customer loyalty beyond each sale.

Or, more simply put, it’s the sum of every touchpoint, thought, feeling, or action that is exchanged between the customer and your brand.

User Experience (UX) vs. Customer Experience (CX)

While customer experience encompasses everything that happens between your customer and your brand, user experience is the function that helps users perform specific tasks at various touchpoints. Think of it like this:

UX vs CX

[Source: Digital Gov]

UX is an integral part of the overall CX and is measured by important KPIs such as cart abandonment and bounce rates, while customer experience (CX) includes every interaction a customer has or will have with your brand, from discovery to delivery.

Benefits of Creating an End-to-End Customer Experience

With the blurring of lines between off- and online channels, as well as between fast-growing digital channels, creating this streamlined end-to-end experience is becoming increasingly necessary.

Without being able to optimize, innovate, and customize in real-time, you risk losing even your most loyal customers to your competitors. You also need to consider each customer’s experience as a whole (not just at specific touchpoints) and make them as personalized as possible —, you risk losing even your most loyal customers to your competitors.

A holistic end-to-end customer experience helps brands:

  1. Increase perceived value
  2. Drive average order values and increase purchase frequency
  3. Build trust and loyalty
  4. Increase profits through resulting cheaper acquisitions

Now let’s look at the most significant online retail end-to-end customer experiences trends. 

End-to-End Customer Experiences: 5 Online Retail Trends and Strategies

1. Increased Competition as Brick-and-Mortars Go Digital

Your biggest competitor is probably still offline!

Despite the rise of eCommerce, you’re still competing with brick-and-mortar brands. While the pandemic has dramatically sped up offline stores' digital integration, the bulk of sales is still being done offline. According to Statista, in 2020, a whopping 82% of the $23 trillion in total sales occurred in physical locations.

In fact, the pandemic went a long way to improving omni stores' end-to-end customer experiences by forcing big retailers to invest hugely into digital UX, marketing, and customer support.

As the lines between off- and online channels blurred, many retailers were pushed to pivot when it comes to including digital strategies in their end-to-end customer experience. And this was before the pandemic. According to a 2019 report, two-thirds of shoppers were already checking their phones in-store for product information.

Here’s a breakdown of what they were searching for:

US shoppers searching for online while in store

So, what does this mean for online retailers?

Main Takeaway: To compete with on- and offline retailers, you need to work harder at not only creating a better end-to-end experience, but finding ways to the awareness stage to push shoppers online, especially if your audience includes older, more traditional shoppers.

A good place to start is to look at the top reasons shoppers still prefer to shop on location and gear your CX around creating a similar experience. Here are two examples:

  1. Touch, feel, or look of products. Yes, it’s crucial for online retailers to use good quality product images and videos; however, it’s not enough. By offering generous return policies and easy return logistics, you can help offset customer concerns by making it easy — and free — to send back a product after touching, feeling, or seeing a product in person.
  2. Shipping fees. Shoppers often opt for in-store shopping as a way to avoid additional shipping fees. You can offset this by offering shipping promotions to loyal customers or free shipping above certain thresholds.

2. More Complex Shopping Journeys

The more complex the sales journey is, the harder it is for brands to streamline their end-to-end customer experience strategies. And thanks to a boost in new digital channels, it’s even more challenging.

According to Salesforce, by the end of last year, brand websites and apps, retailer websites and apps, and online marketplace transaction share grew by nearly 40%. Additionally, new emerging delivery apps, social media channels, and messaging platforms also saw their transactions increase.

where shoppers prefer to shop

[Source: Salesforce]

Add that to the fact that each new channel brings with it its own retail trends and potential.

For example, the rise of channels like Twitch and TikTok has been the driving force behind new live commerce shopping trends, which are now being incorporated into other channels such as Instagram or on-store, if your platform allows for it.

Why is this important?

As many as 73% of shoppers have reported using multiple channels throughout the customer journey, and a growing number of channels means more and more complex journeys. These channels include:

  • Social media channels 
  • Online marketplaces
  • Brick-and-mortar stores
  • Web stores, shopping carts, and apps

Regarding shopping apps, here are the leading shopping mobile apps on the Apple Store in 2021, according to Statista:

leading shopping apps

[Source: BigCommerce]

And it’s not just about channels, but devices as well, with 98% of US shoppers reporting switching between devices on the same day.

Main Takeaway: More shoppers are spending more time on a growing variety of channels, and online retailers need to meet their expectations at each and every one. This means focusing on building relationships, at every touchpoint, by honing in on what a customer expects from you on that channel at that point in time. The advantage of ensuring you use every available channel to create a streamlined CX is that it allows you to also:

  • Increase revenue while building customer loyalty
  • Leverage the power of third-party channels and marketplaces to increase reach to new potential shoppers
  • Target and engage with potential consumers at different stages of the buyer’s journey

3. Evolving Customer Expectations of Connected Shoppers

As we discussed above, complex shopping journeys and increased channels mean shoppers are active on an increasing number of channels and platforms. However, with growing channels comes growing expectations.

Not only are they on more channels, but shoppers expect brands to be able to meet them where they are, regardless of what stage of the shopping journey they are on. As salesforce research defined it, customers want brands to meet them “at the edge.” This includes three stages:

  1. Discovery. During discovery, they found that social media, influencers, and messaging apps are the most popular methods for discovery, followed by Livestream and voice assistant.
  1. Buying. The top digital destinations for shoppers to make a purchase include social media, email, and mobile wallets, followed by voice assistants and messaging apps. 
  1. Service/support. Shoppers expect to get service from self-service channels such as on-store chat and social media.

best platforms for each touchpoint ecommerce

[Source: Salesforce]

What does this mean for online retailers?

Main Takeaway: It’s becoming increasingly important for eCommerce brands to incorporate a wider array of channels to compete for customer attention. However, retailers need a unified marketing and communications strategy to ensure an end-to-end experience.

This means taking touchpoint navigation and personalization to pro-level when it comes to cross-device navigation and investing in hyper-personal marketing and product discovery content that translates across all channels.

4. Integrating Marketing KPIs into Logistics Strategies

Online retail merchandising and inventory management play a huge role in boosting the overall end-to-end customer experience. And the more channels a retailer manages, the more important it becomes.

Therefore, when it comes to not only converting customers but retaining them, it’s more than just strategic inventory planning. Online retailers need to balance marketing KPIs, such as personalization, with important retail KPIs. Not only do you need to ensure inventory is updated in real-time, but every discovery touchpoint — onsite or via marketing channels (such as email or PPC campaigns) — should be tailored to each specific shopper.

And even that is not enough. You also need to factor in important retail KPIs to ensure you are not only creating a personalized product discovery experience but to ensure revenue and growth targets are hit. And it needs to be down at every touchpoint, channel, or buying stage.

Main Takeaway: Ultimately, you need to include advanced merchandising and inventory management into your overall CX strategy, whether it’s a customized experience for new customers searching your product pages or advanced product suggestions for stock up emails to existing customers.

The best way to do this is by harnessing the power of advanced AI tools such as Kimonix. Kimonix is the first AI-powered, holistic eCommerce merchandising solution that factors in multiple marketing and retail KPIs to give the right product at the right time to the right customer, for the most possible profit. KPIs such as:

  • 1:1 personalization (based on real-time visits)
  • Conversion rates
  • Product reviews (ratings and amount)
  • Margins and real margins (after discounts)
  • Sales (quantity or dollar amount)
  • Inventory value
  • Days to finish inventory
  • Variants stock ratio
  • Days since back in stock
  • Days in store
  • Discounts
  • Page-views
  • Product demand and price competitiveness in the market

Click here for a free demo.

5. Customer Loyalty and Lifetime Value Increased Involvement in Retail Growth

We now know that creating strategies that help build a seamless end-to-end customer experience is about more than just converting a sale, but building long-term relationships with customers. And with growing online retail competition, it’s never been more vital to invest in consumer loyalty and customer lifetime value.

In fact, according to new reports, loyalty-building programs and incentives increase a shoppers' likelihood of buying by over 50%. In other words, consumers are actively looking for brands they can commit to, retailers that offer more personalized engagements and genuine relationship-building strategies.

In short, loyalty-building and the end-to-end CX that drives it is what  sets retailers apart.

According to Salesforce's extensive connected customer survey, younger audiences value exclusive access to limited products and experiences, with a third of all Millennials and Gen Zers saying they belong to free-based loyalty programs.

Additionally, they found that consumers are very open to engaging with and promoting a retailer in exchange for rewards, including actions such as writing a product review or downloading a store app. 

types of loyalty programs shoppers prefer

[Source: Salesforce]

Main Takeaway: As the competitive landscape changes and consumer behavior changes, retailers need to rethink rewards and loyalty initiatives. Shoppers want to engage, and brands have a real opportunity to do so while increasing customer lifetime value. The best way to stand out here is to hone in on very specific personalization, with so many retailers not capitalizing on this opportunity.

To get you started, here are some of the most popular loyalty programs that the survey revealed customers prefer:

Topper

[Source: Salesforce]

Final Thoughts: Invest Big in Online Retail End-to-End Customer Experiences

When even brick-and-mortar stores are harnessing the power of digital, it’s definitely time for online retailers to start looking at the bigger picture. The trick is to invest big in optimizing customer experiences now and putting more value into building personalized relationships with shoppers.

There is no doubt that to build your business long term while staying competitive, customer experience matters more than ever. As does customer retention. By investing in the right AI-powered tools and eCommerce automation and advanced strategies for every department, from merchandising and support to warehouse management, online retailers can go a long way to achieving that.

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