Online shopping, reality and speed – what is important in the customer experience?

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E-commerce opportunities have revolutionized modern life. We don’t have to go anywhere or actively search for anything, going from store to store seeking out the one needed, elusive item. And rarities? Forget it. You can find it online with a little bit of attentive searching. The time-consuming hunt, the trying to find something out-of-print or a song with just a lyric like we did in the old days – it’s nothing now. And maybe we lose that sense of accomplishment and the appreciation of having something simply because of the work we had to do to get it. (The same principles were at work in my early refusal to get email – I wanted my paper-and-pen penfriend world to remain the same… rare, personal and full of anticipation.)

And while online shopping has certainly made my life richer (as stupid as that sounds), I recognize that the in-person, “instant gratification” retail shopping experience also is not going away. People want to feel, see, taste, touch, hear everything and experience something tactile, particularly in trying on clothes and the like, but at the same time, online shopping means you’re no longer limited to what you can find in a local shop or the mall or something. And that’s why I love it – I hate shopping in person.

How are some of the biggest e-commerce giants tapping into massive troves of data on shoppers’ habits and preferences to tailor and curate in-store shopping experiences and in turn, at the same time, drive shoppers back to the e-commerce platform?

Amazon.com’s new flagship store experiment is a case study in doing exactly this. When I read the Vox article about this store I was as perplexed as the writer initially had been. Why would the entity that pretty much singlehandedly made e-commerce a thing move back to brick-and-mortar? I never in a million years imagined that I would see this dubious store for myself, and yet the very same day as I read the article, I ended up at University Village in Seattle and went in the store. Nothing impressive, nothing that would make me want to go back. And I don’t need in-person employees to offer to help me, only to tell me, “Well, you can buy that online… on Amazon.” DUH! It seems like a really expensive experience to create that can only benefit a limited number of people, if it really “benefits” anyone at all.

I recently watched Aziz Ansari’s Netflix sitcom Master of None, and he lamented the horror of going online to try to replace a beloved pair of shoes only to find that they were out of stock – so he had to (insert exasperated tone here) actually go out to find and buy them in person. “Who has time for that?”

Precisely.

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