Although online shopping is undeniably convenient, it sometimes feels like an impersonal experience. The number of “Mom and Pop” shops are dwindling, and “mobile” is the buzzword du jour. However, as it turns out, just because a shopping experience is virtual doesn’t mean it can’t be personal.

In fact, one surprising trend in online shopping is that customer service is turning out to be quite important, even essential. Or, as WeAreDigital Director Karson Stimson says, “Retailers will start to realise this year that having a decent product and brilliant customer service are the essential components to being a successful brand on and offline.”

In other words, the companies that can meaningfully engage with their customers and provide a unique service that feels personal will be the ones who are successful in the coming year.

For example, Warby Parker was started by four friends with a simple goal: to offer people affordable but attractive eye wear. They found a way to deliver high quality eye glasses – including frames and lenses – at a fraction of the cost charged by regular retail stores. While the average pair of designer eye glasses costs upwards of $500, the team at Warby Parker circumvents the middle man and charges customers just $95 a pair. Warby Parker offer 27 vintage style designs, but more importantly, they interact directly with their customers.

While it’s their e-commerce distribution model that enables them to offer such good prices, it’s the relationships they build with their customers that powers their success. They’ve successfully created a “local” feel and a meaningful customer experience. They even donate a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair purchased.

American Giant is another company that designed its business model by prioritizing a powerful customer experience. American Giant was determined to sell clothing manufactured in America that wasn’t outrageously priced. They eliminated overhead and various unnecessary costs so they could offer their customers American-made, reasonably priced sweatshirts. But they provide more than just an article of clothing. They also create an experience of patriotism and social responsibility. They reach their customers by meeting a need and connecting over shared values.

The lesson to be learned to be here is that even though e-commerce is a virtual service, the most successful businesses will be ones who can listen to their customers and step up to the plate with exceptional customer service. Creating the feel of a local business is essential for the online merchants of today and tomorrow.

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Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user techfun.

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