A few years ago, consumers were much more likely to assess e-commerce’s inherent risks and benefits in light of online shopping’s emergence. As the digital retail industry continues to grow, people are less likely to see online shopping as a risk and more as a necessity with unmatched convenience.

When consumers engage with e-commerce platforms regularly, however, their expectations for the products they buy online also grow. To align those expectations with reality, a brand must prioritize accuracy, timeliness, and the presentation of a product or service’s information, including availability, aesthetic options, total cost with shipping, and expected arrival date.

A well-engineered e-commerce system can bring these elements (and others) into better focus. The risks associated with digital commerce are well-documented, and it’s critical that your company addresses the customer’s entire journey to mitigate them.

Find that balance

When a company fails to meet customer expectations, it’s not just sales that suffer—so, too, does brand reputation, which correlates with the ability to attract new customers and strengthen those relationships. Here’s how e-commerce company leaders can get customer expectations and business reality on the same page:

1. Provide real-time support.

When a customer needs assistance with an order, it’s typically a time-sensitive request. It’s crucial to provide helpful support in real time, such as whenever your customer is online, to meet them where they are more readily. Ideally, you would also offer customer support across multiple channels to make assistance more accessible and immediate. Kadro President and CEO Rick Johnson understands the importance of live customer support.

“For e-commerce businesses, the communication should be clear, timely, and reliable,” Johnson says. “Providing customer-selected preferences over many options such as email, texting, or push notifications will greatly enhance the overall experience.”

You can still salvage the relationship when a customer’s expectations aren’t met with real-time support. For example, when a Zappos customer made a mistake with an order while grieving a lost loved one, the customer service agent returned the purchased pair of shoes and sent sympathy flowers. Although such a gesture isn’t necessary for every customer support call, the importance of real-time, genuine support cannot be understated.

2. Use a multichannel approach.

Implementing an omnichannel marketing strategy is important to reach and retain more customers. This strategy requires having multiple touchpoints for customers to access information about your company’s products and services.

Creating and managing multiple touchpoints can be expensive because reaching customers via phone, chat, email, or social media requires time and additional costs. Still, it’s critical to prioritize the timeliness and accuracy of customer support across your digital channels to retain customers.

In fact, companies with solid omnichannel strategies retain almost 90% of their customers, increase customer lifetime value by 30%, and multiply customer satisfaction by 23 times.

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3. Practice price transparency.

The last thing a customer wants is an additional, unexpected cost when shopping online. For example, if a customer sees a product in your catalog at a certain price, clicks on the thumbnail, and sees that the cost to purchase, ship, and deliver the product is much higher, then you risk losing credibility due to the misalignment of reality and expectations.

Price transparency is actually an easy fix. All you must do is ensure that the total cost of your product or service—including shipping and fees—and all delivery and fulfillment expectations are communicated immediately in the online shopping funnel. Don’t confuse or hide the total cost from customers.

4. Leverage customer reviews.

Most business owners understand the role reviews play in building or breaking down credibility. But reviews are key ways to sell products or services. Customers would spend 31% more on businesses with excellent reviews, and over 92% of B2B customers are likely to make purchases after reading one trusted, positive review.

Reviews also help improve the buyer experience by enabling you to picture the entire customer journey and identify what’s working and what isn’t. Importantly, positive online reviews help your company appear higher in organic local searches, while negative reviews negatively impact your rankings.

To get the most out of positive product reviews and improve your rankings even further, share them on all digital platforms and be authentic in your review responses.

5. Be mindful of customer values.

The customer buying experience should include the things that matter most to your buyers. Think of the buying journey as your customers driving through fog while on a road trip. The journey starts with the customer learning about the brand. Then, they buy something and find the help they need afterward.

Somewhere along the way, they develop expectations and need you to fill in the blanks and speak to what’s most important to them. It’s up to you to clear the fog with road signs that convey your company’s values and point customers toward their needs. This process helps align customer expectations with reality.

6. Look beyond data.

Metrics and data are incredibly important in quantifying how well customer expectations meet reality. However, when companies focus too much on data, they risk missing what customers really want. You might have a great Net Promoter Score, for example, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have detractors as well.

Instead of only reviewing data, seek out Voice of the Customer information. You can do this by asking open-ended questions, running sentiment analyses, defining your audience to identify concerning pain points, and mapping the customer journey. The whole point of looking beyond data is to understand the customer as a real person and deliver experiences that resonate.

When customer expectations for your company don’t align with reality, you risk losing business and harming your brand’s reputation. Ensuring that expectations meet reality requires a comprehensive strategy across multiple channels. Once you understand your e-commerce customers’ journeys and their expectations, you can find opportunities to meet them every step of the way and inspire company loyalty and trust.

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