What Retailers Need to Fix in Their Online Experience

The online shopping experience has improved dramatically since the birth of ecommerce, but let’s face the facts -it could still use some work. Just think about the steps in your own online shopping journey, and you’ll know why. How many times have you abandoned a retail website due to slow load times, the inability to find the product you’re looking for, or a lengthy checkout process? Probably more often than not.

Even though many retailers haven’t optimized their online experience, some are still rushing to launch new technologies. Amazon Prime Wardrobe allows customers to bring the store to them, with the option to receive up to 15 apparel pieces for 7 days, including free shipping and returns for the “no” pile. IKEA offers an augmented reality app that helps customers envision furniture purchases in their homes.

The web commerce experience isn’t as good as it could be, and retailers are jumping past it to the next shiny object. So what really needs to change? In order to make improvements that will increase sales, customer satisfaction, and loyalty, retailers need to slow down and evaluate a few a few key areas of their ecommerce experience.

Site load times

Retailers should pay attention to how long it takes their site to load, on both desktop and mobile devices. Web users are pretty impatient today. According to Google, 2 seconds is the slowest acceptable load time for ecommerce websites, but the average for retailers in the U.S. is 9.8 seconds. And the average for mobile web pages is even worse, clocking in at 22 seconds.   With 53 percent of users abandoning a mobile page after 3 seconds of loading, slow sites have the potential to drastically reduce conversion rates.

Browsing functionality

When shoppers land on a retailer’s website, they need to easily find and evaluate what they’re looking for. That means that the following capabilities for retailers are a must:

  • Navigation and taxonomy that makes sense to shoppers
  • A search function that’s prominently placed and gives recommended search keywords
  • High-quality product photos with various angles and zoom-in capabilities
  • Detailed product descriptions
  • Extensive product reviews

All these facets must work equally in both the desktop and mobile experience, giving shoppers consistency across channels.

And these browsing capabilities aren’t just “nice-to-have” functions – shoppers reward retailers that offer them. According to “The US Digital Only Retailers Customer Experience Index, 2017”, published by Forrester Research, 118,000 U.S. customers were surveyed to find out how that brand’s customer experience impacts customer loyalty. And the highest-ranking brands made themselves “easy to shop with” (QVC), with a “strong taxonomy that helps shoppers easily find what they are looking for” (Wayfair).

Shoppers have come to expect ease in their browsing experience, and they are asking for even more. According to the same Forrester report, 62 percent of US respondents want online access to real-time store inventory, so they can make an informed decision about whether to visit a physical store.

Cart functionality

 Maybe a retailer’s site load time is fast, and the browsing experience is easy and intuitive. However, if it comes time to access the shopping cart and the process is complicated or unclear, shoppers will abandon their purchases.

Retailers need an outside perspective to answer the following questions:

  • Is the shopping cart easy to find and access on the website?
  • Can shoppers easily see what’s in their shopping cart, including specific item details and quantities?
  • Are shoppers able to make changes to what’s in the cart, including adding and deleting items, in a straightforward manner?
  • Are there functions to enter coupons, gift cards, and shipping preferences to quickly configure the total purchase amount prior to checkout?

Prospective and returning customers must be able to configure all these inputs before heading to checkout – especially with the plethora of shipping options available today. Forrester also found that 41 percent of US respondents had used the buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), ship-to-store, or reserve online and pick up in store options in the past 3 months. Making sure the shipping options in the shopping cart are easy to use can increase conversions where online inventory falls short.


Think of a retailer’s online checkout process like the checkout lanes at the grocery store. If you hang out in a grocery store near those checkout lanes during a busy time, you’ll likely see shoppers prowling around for the shortest line.

Online checkout is no different. We all want to complete our transaction as quickly as possible. But in many cases, retailers sacrifice sales opportunities for a checkout process that requires a great deal of information.

Again, a different set of eyes is helpful to find out where shoppers might be running into roadblocks. Here are some sample scenarios:

  • A new customer must enter their life story in order to make a purchase.
  • A returning customer may forget his or her username and password, and not have an easy or fast way to retrieve it.
  • There’s no guest shopper option.
  • The guest shopper option is available, but it still asks for too much information.
  • When shoppers enter information incorrectly, the error messages don’t tell them exactly what’s wrong – or how to fix it.

Retailers should also be mindful of the payments part of the checkout process. Offering a great credit promotion, or loyalty rewards can push that customer over the finish line, however having a disjointed experience, lengthy application process, or an application that takes customers offsite can result in a lost sale. It’s up to retailers to evaluate every touchpoint in checkout, including optimizing their payments and credit programs, to avoid providing any opportunity for a customer to walk away from a purchase.

Measuring the abandonment rates of every step of the checkout process can help retailers pinpoint where they are losing sales.

Post-transaction experience 

Just because the checkout process is complete doesn’t mean the customer’s experience with that transaction is over. Before the shipment arrives or is available for pick-up in store, there are generally a series of communications sent out via email or text to provide order status.

Is it easy for customers to link directly to the retailer site and find that status, or connect with a customer service rep to resolve an issue? And what about returns – how can customers initiate them on the retailer site? These post-transaction experiences, when handled appropriately, can drive customers back for repeat purchases.

Retailers stand to make huge gains with improvements in the online shopping experience.

Let’s face it: all retailers want to have happy customers. A happy customer is one that comes back for more, and tells their friends about their favorite brand – and that’s not just speculation. According to Forrester, 86 percent of happy customers remain loyal to brands, 85 percent make repeat purchases with brands, and 88 percent advocate on the brands’ behalf.

Analyzing the data you collect about your customers can be the first step in improving your online experience. However, it starts with looking at the data that actually matters. In our latest 3 part ecommerce series featuring Forrester’s Sucharita Kodali, we dive into the ecommerce metrics that matter and what that could mean for your bottom line. Get the insights here.

by Veronika Clough

The smartest retailers are choosing Vyze. Find out why.

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