Unwrapping the Holiday e-Commerce Contradiction

By: Sumeet Goel

In the least surprising news of the year, a recent Deloitte survey indicates that Americans plan to spend a majority of their holiday shopping budget online. While it’s the first time online sales are expected to exceed in-store sales, I think many would have guessed as much or assumed that this threshold had already been crossed.

Here’s something a little more interesting: another survey shows that a significant percentage of shoppers aren’t enjoying their online purchasing experience that much. In a major Pitney Bowes study of retailers and consumers from around the world, almost half of respondents reported issues, frustrations and an overall experience that did not meet their expectations.

So everyone is doing it while almost half of us seem to hate it. What gives?

I suspect part of the answer lies in the Amazon-ification of the e-commerce landscape. Bezos and company have set consumer expectations at a level that contributes to frustration with other sites. When I buy from Amazon, the following things happen:

  • Expectation: Prior to ordering, I know what I’m getting, total cost, when it is shipped and when it’s going to arrive. All on one screen.
  • Entry: I don’t need to enter billing information, shipping address – really, anything at all.
  • Transaction: One-click – I’m done.
  • Communication: Immediate – before I can even close the tab – I have an email in my inbox, with the completed transaction, the expected ship date, the expected delivery date, and a link to my order and tracking. I receive notification when it has shipped, along with further tracking information. Finally, I receive delivery notification.  And more recently, I’ve been able to see pictures of the delivery itself!
  • Timing: Delivery within two days, and oftentimes within one day. Sometimes I order in the morning and it arrives that afternoon

Contrast this with my recent experience on another site (not some mom-and-pop shop, a major global player). I wanted to buy a Philadelphia Eagles t-shirt for my son as we were going to his first NFL game. They promised delivery within two days. Upon completing the transaction, I just closed the tab like I do with Amazon.

I didn’t write down the transaction number or confirmation number or anything about the order. Why?  Because Amazon has taught me that I don’t need to. And this is where the frustration sets in, because 15 years ago I probably would have written down the info in case I needed it. But I don’t do it now because I’ve been conditioned to expect certain things (which are good things and make my life easier).

I expected an email confirmation of the order. Nothing came. Ever. Not in any spam folder, junk email, nowhere.

My two day shipping came and went. A week later, I had to figure out how to log back into my account (created for this single purchase) – followed by a lengthy navigation to find my order, and it turns out…. The transaction actually did happen (I had a fear that for some reason it had never happened because I never received the email)…. But it hadn’t even shipped yet, despite the two day guarantee.

Again – think about your Amazon expectations.  If they’re *ever* going to be late, they update you all along the way.

When it finally shipped, no notification.  No delivery confirmation.  Nothing.

I finally received the item, but after 2 ½ weeks, and just 3 days before the game.

I probably spent a grand total of 20-30 minutes figuring this all out (checking junk mail, spam, logging in, checking on status, checking back in a few days later to make sure it shipped, etc.), but the annoyance factor was high, it took up unnecessary mindshare over several weeks.

As you can see, my frustration is rooted in a comparison to shopping on Amazon, not a brick-and-mortar department store. I wanted to shop online for all the reasons we already know – convenience, pricing, etc. But I expected it to work as seamlessly as Amazon; when it didn’t, I was disappointed.

The challenge to retailers is clear: clean up the online customer experience or risk extinction. Now please excuse me while I buy every single gift for family and friends on Amazon.