My cranberry experience was one of the worst online shopping experiences I have had this year! And it did make me realize that it’s a big step for any business, and perhaps an even bigger step for their customers, to make online shopping the only option. The question arises; should e-commerce be the only option? And what about the customers who don’t use computers; yes, they still exist; do they just fall by the wayside? How is your cranberry customer experience?
This is a real life story:
The company which sells the best dried cranberries is Davis Lewis Orchards. The customer was my neighbor Mary Anne, who though she inherited her partner’s MacBook, only reads the news, and surfs modestly, and even today does not do email or any online ordering! She insists on a live person and telephone contact, and when asked for her email, smiles and says “Hello?” There is a segment of the population, usually over “a certain age” that does not use computers as we do. I’ve been doing email for close to 20 years and e-commerce for almost as long; in fact I tested some of the first e-commerce websites as a beta customer!
Mary Anne had been ordering dried cranberries by phone from competitors for years, but when she called Davis Lewis Orchards she was told “only online ordering”. Not using a computer for email or online ordering, she was dead in the water; so I told her that the first time she needed to order cranberries online I would take care of it, but in future I’d show her how to do the ordering process herself. I think the incentive and stakes are high enough for her to learn (she loves cranberries), and anyway I’ll still be available to help.
I searched Google for Davis Lewis Orchards, and found the 5lb bags of cranberries, and added one bag to my shopping cart. I filled out the usual form, billing and shipping address (twice, as the form did not remember my input) and when the shipping costs came to $18.00 for a $17.00 bag of cranberries, I hesitated and called Mary Anne. She decided that if 2 bags cost the same shipping, she could go for it and this would tide her over to find another supplier who did not have such exhorbitant shipping costs.
In order to change the quantity to 2 bags, I returned to the website and updated the order to 2 (so I thought) then I went through the checkout process again, and as the shipping charges appeared to be OK, I concluded the transaction. When the email arrived confirming the order, I noticed it had not updated to the 2 bags and shipping was still $18. I tried to cancel the order; not happening! Next I called their 800 number and got a live person, though by then it was Friday afternoon. The 800 customer service person was unable to help, but she took my message: ”2 bags, only if shipping is still $18.00, otherwise cancel the order!” She informed me that nothing could be done until Monday when the person who processed the orders would be back in the office and would call me.
Monday morning I received an email from Diane at Davis Lewis Orchards, the order for one bag and $18.00 shipping had been processed. Uh oh…. I called Diane and the fact that she answered and knew what was going on made up for a lot of the negative customer experience to that point. A live person can do that!
Diane had not received my message from her 800 service. Not a good thing! Next I found out that 2 bags of cranberries would be $36 shipping!!! Now I was ready to cancel, but then Diane mentioned that orders over $50 get free shipping! I had not seen this mentioned anywhere on the website! So now I changed the order to 3 bags and free shipping. But Diane was unable to make this order change for me! She said I needed to go back to the website and cancel my original order (which I had previously been unable to do). She finally agreed to cancel my order at her end. I waited and waited, as she had difficulty doing the cancellation herself, and then she suggested she call me back; which she did after about 30 minutes; original order finally cancelled.
I then returned to the website, put three bags in the cart, filled out the forms (fourth time!) and voila(!) estimated shipping now gave me the free shipping option; first time I had seen it, end of order story. The buying process thus far had taken me close to two hours including the phone calls, and made it quite clear to me that teaching Mary Anne to order from that particular website is going to be a challenge, since things were not the least bit intuitive, even for me, an online ordering veteran.
What should companies like Davis Lewis Orchards consider to keep their customers, and make the transition to online ordering a viable option:
1- Consider having more than only the online ordering option.
The reason Diane gave why the were focused on “only” online ordering was that they had no payment option available to them for phone orders; which I translated into: they didn’t have an “affordable” telephone credit card option. I’m sure there are payment companies that have options for companies like Davis Lewis Orchards to take credit cards by phone, and not be killed by high processing fees. Maybe some of you can mention these payment options in the comments below.
2 – Consider a visual timeline for step-by-step ordering.
To accommodate new customers and those grooved into “phone” ordering, give a step-by-step visual help process (guidelines), which takes you through the ordering procedure from soup to nuts (or cranberries). Visual timelines with numbered progress steps would have been very useful for me as a first time visitor to David Lewis Orchards.
3 – Consider accommodating those unaccustomed to online ordering.
Think through all the aspects of your website that will make it user friendly to those new to online ordering. I don’t want to find out about free shipping for orders over $50 at the last moment. I don’t want to fill out my billing and shipping information 4 times. Consider retaining a customer experience consultant to go through the process with you from the customer’s point of view.
4 – Consider having an 800 helpline that really helps.
I know Diane was perturbed when I asked her if she had received the message I left on Friday, and she realized she hadn’t! It’s unlikely a small company with comparatively small 800 usage will have round the clock trained personal to help customers and take orders, so they retain services that accommodate multiple customers, who naturally are unfamiliar with every product. However, not passing on a message is inexcusable.
I personally will not return to a website where I have an annoying or time consuming experience finding information or ordering a product. Your customers need to leave your website with their goals quickly and easily accomplished (whether purchase or finding information), and they need to look forward to returning again. This is some insight on designing a website I wrote about, which many small businesses and companies have used to get started. 12 Most Useful Insights Every Designer Needs to Know About People.
Small business online does not have the infrastructure capabilities of the big guys like Amazon, however it can be a learning experience to go through their seamless ordering process, and do your best to replicate it.
If you take it from the customer experience point of view, which means understanding your customers, even those unaccustomed to online ordering, or those visiting your website for the first time, you will be well on your way to designing a website experience which will keep loyal customers and attract new ones.