What do customers want post-Brexit?... an honest e-commerce platform

April 4, 2021

It is no secret that customers expect good communication from their chosen merchants, but digital communication has become even more paramount over the last 12 months. The pandemic has put everything online. With shops closed, consumers have needed to use e-commerce platforms and digital channels to make purchases and for all other interactions with a retailer.

While retail giants like ASOS have flourished with a proven track record for watertight digital experiences, plenty of other retailers haven’t performed as well, with a lack of communication often at the heart of the problem.

These communication issues go much further than simply having the right customer service channels in place. Rather, it is the communication on stock levels, product availability, delivery times and accepted payment methods that often fall short. Brexit has also made it harder for SMEs to control each of these elements, and added new pressures to the day-to-day.

So with that in mind, what does good, and bad, communication look like in the COVID/Brexit era?

Critical comms

One of the most high-profile cases of poor stock communication has been the PS5 launch. It wasn’t surprising to see the item sell out quickly, but the lack of clarification from companies selling (or not selling) the product was jarring. It wasn’t clear when the item would be online, how many units were available and whether waiting hours at a time in a digital queue would even secure you a unit.

It may seem obvious, but consumers will go where the products are. Of the 34% of customers who shopped with a new retailer since the start of the pandemic, almost a third have done so because of product availability (McKinsey, 2020). Getting stock communication so drastically wrong can have a terrible impact long-term.

And it doesn’t take much. Half of consumers would ditch a brand after one bad experience (Zendesk’s Trends Report, 2020). And that number jumps to 80% after one or more experiences. To survive the post-Brexit and post-Covid world where operational disruption is commonplace, brands have to be able to be transparent across their platform especially around things like stock.

Getting it right

According to Gartner, 76% of customers expect companies to understand their needs. SMEs can’t always secure more stock, cut delivery time and fees, but they can change how they communicate on e-commerce platforms. Brands should be working with their partners to ensure customer communication is clear, particularly around:

  • Shipping and delivery: Customers expect to know when their items are going to arrive, especially when you consider that brands like Amazon offer very specific delivery windows which many are now accustomed to. Even if you can’t offer next day delivery, you need to be transparent about how long delivery is going to take. Lush is another brand that does this well and sends out clear email communication during each stage of delivery.
  • Fees: Nobody wants to be hit with extra fees that weren’t clearly explained. You need to be upfront about what the final cost of an order will be. Merchants should display these charges as soon as possible so that a customer knows what they’re getting themselves into. For example, when the order is under £135 and from an EU seller, the merchant should include a VAT charge at the point of sale. But if the total cost of the order is over that amount, it is generally collected at the point of delivery. If you aren’t using a DDP shipping service, make sure to alert your customer before they complete the checkout that there will be an import duty bill to pay before their goods are released. Find more info about shipping and delivery fees.
  • Payment systems: There’s nothing worse than getting to the checkout with the item you want only to realise that you can’t use any of your chosen payment methods. Many brands display accepted payment options on their home page as a pre-emptive measure. This is actually a great opportunity for firms. For example, almost a fifth of consumers now use ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) methods like Klarna. Customers will want to know whether they can pay flexibly before browsing, so SMEs that offer BNPL should be shouting about it on their homepage. Retailers like Gymshark are already doing this well.
  • Stock: I’ve discussed what happens when stock goes wrong, so how can you get it right? Be transparent. Brands should display stock levels e.g. ‘in stock, ‘low stock’, ‘expecting to restock’ on product pages. This prevents customers from clicking through to an item if it is not available. And this can even prompt a customer to quickly purchase an item to ensure they secure it. Different brands do this differently and it is OK to find a style that best fits your platform. Homeware brand Habitat for instance recently displayed on their front page that garden products were low in stock. This is clear and upfront, and even before consumers start to browse. While Ooni Pizza, a pizza oven manufacturer, have a sitewide banner and info page dedicated to explaining stock availability. Some Kickstarter product pages also do this nicely and say at the get-go that stock will be available in batches on a target date and that you need to order before a certain time to secure a unit.

Final thoughts

Clear website and platform communication is easy and can be achieved by any brand no matter its size. It is in SME retailers’ interests to be clear and open with their customers. 59% are willing to pay more for products and services following a positive customer experience (SAS 2020).

Thus, being upfront and making key information visible can improve revenue as well as keep consumers happy. In a difficult market, SMEs must use transparency to their advantage.