In today's age of always-on connectivity, mobile devices glued to our hands, and being able to reach out to any company and shop 24/7, the way businesses need to operate has changed. Your physical store seems to matter less, and the focus has gone to significant online presence through websites and community management. Things like price point, delivery time, and cost of delivery are outweighing things like the perceived prestige/fame of your brand and the necessity to hold a physical product before making a purchase.
HONESTY & ONLINE TRANSPARENCY
There's no denying that people feel more comfortable with a virtual experience, especially younger generations. This is no small feat. To go from a common-sense approach to not buy something until you can inspect it, to making a calculated risk assessment of purchasing a product based on a few pictures, with the confidence that a) the company your buying from will be honest and b) has customer service high in their priorities. In a way, we expect that customers have an extreme influence on the failure and success of a company. Single lousy user experience will doom a company, and they will do anything in their power to avoid that.
SOCIAL MEDIA EXPOSURE
Think of consumer activism, not painstakingly organized, but almost formed organically, with just a few clicks. One person makes a poignant complaint on social media and reviews sites before you know it this complaint can be resonated across shares, retweets and sometimes even viral popularity. A brand is built up over many years but can be destroyed in seconds. The time for armchair activism is now.
TRADITIONAL BRICKS & MORTAR
To go back to a previous notion, the traditional brick-and-mortar approaches versus online first businesses, we put emphasis on websites over physical stores. There is enough evidence of that happening all around us. Think of how Amazon is putting pressure on more traditional companies that you can find on the high street and in shopping malls (and sometimes even forcing them to fold).
As consumers have less need for physical stores, combined with the consumer's confidence in forcing companies to 'do the right thing,' they have also become more empowered to punish companies’ things they couldn't before.
NO MORE WAITING IN THE QUEUE
Take the scenario where someone has taken out the time to drive to a store, picked something from the shelves, and is waiting at the checkout. Let's assume that the queue is 3 people. Waiting is not an issue. Let's consider the line is 6 people. Waiting might still not be an issue still. Let's assume its 12 people in the queue. Even at this point, it’s not a certainty that the individual will give up and leave. There are probably some considerations of how much time and effort has gone into the whole endeavour and if the purchase is worth the additional hassle. As we have sunk time and effort into the entire buying process already, we are less inclined to abandon it, despite little niggles and more significant irritations we encounter.
ONLINE USER EXPERIENCE
The scenario above is far less applicable on websites. As we have invested way less time and effort in filling up a basket, we have fewer issues with abandoning the process altogether if we encounter something we don't like. Being less loyal to brands, but more committed to excellent user experiences means that consumers punish bad behaviour quite quickly (and are more vocal about it) but also will reward good experiences more readily as well.
COMPANIES WITH ONLINE PRESENCE
Therefore, companies fail when they see their online presence, such as their website or social media community management, 'just' as a version of their physical stores or an extension of their customer service team. It's not that. The online element does not mean you can take traditional business approaches and just translate them. It means that you need to re-evaluate what your core message is and how this plays out online. Especially the part where consumers are less forgiving, less patient, and can be extremely vocal about bad experiences, this part needs to be taken into consideration.
The smart move for companies is to understand that online is an entirely different beast altogether. It's not a mindless port of what you do. It is a considered approach where you need experts, such as an eCommerce platform specialist or a conversion agency, to a leading approach in not only design but also business-as-usual process design.
The reality is that all this is not optional. Many companies have already seen the shift from physical to online. And many companies fail to make that transition. The key is to make the change but also to take the opportunity to redesign their business added value and processes to be more customer-centric, even if that means letting go of tradition. Collaboration.