Customer Experience: Changing Customer Behaviors - How A Marketplace Seller Can Benefit
Did you know that 66% of consumers now rate customer experience over price when it comes to making a purchase decision? This trend has been growing for several years according to a 2019 report by marketing agency Merkle.
Now, there are multiple new studies out backing this up. Ecommerce has changed customer expectations and behavior. I noticed it starting slowly about 5 years ago. It has only gotten stronger since then.
The first obvious sign was the expectation of shipping being included. Second, was the expectation of shortened shipping times. Both were standards established by Amazon that the rest of the industry had to adopt or lose any expectation of competing with the giant.
COVID had a tremendous impact on Ecommerce. Three to five years of growth occurred within a 12 month span. Online sales jumped 45% year-over-year for the 2020 holiday season. Around 75% of buyers and sellers now prefer digital options over face-to-face due to safety, speed & convenience
While Amazon changed the industry for the better, they also made some serious miscalculations which are more evident by the performance of other platforms in 2020. Amazon's grip on the US Ecommerce market has eroded in the last 18 months, something many have tried to do in the past and failed.
Amazon Has Competition
For the first time ever, Shopify merchants outsold Amazon merchants during the period from Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Walmart's revenue from new business during the first 2 quarters of 2020 was up over 500 million dollars.
Amazon's revenue from new business during the same period was a little over 200 million. It didn't hurt Amazon.
If anything it proves that there is plenty of business for all of them, but how much of that new revenue would have gone to Amazon as recently as 2019?
For as big of a deal that Amazon made over its revenue last year, those numbers should have been much, much higher.
Instead the rest of the revenue that would have gone to Amazon was spread across any number of the new retailers that went online last year.
Amazon 2010 vs. Amazon 2021
If you compare the Amazon of 2010 to the Amazon of 2021 you will find a lot of great achievements. But if you look closely, you will find a lot of cracks in the once impenetrable armor. Years of selective enforcement of its own policies while turning a blind eye to blatant manipulation have taken their toll.
Review manipulation had gotten so bad that for the first time ever, in 2019, studies showed that less than 18% of buyers trust the reviews and that buyers trust Walmart reviews more. Magazines now regularly publish articles about issues on Amazon including manipulation by both sellers and Amazon itself.
It seems like the Amazon propaganda machine cannot keep up. Listed below are just some of the negative things that are different now than in 2010 that you will see later in this article work against the changing consumer behaviors and hurt sellers more than help them.
There will always be people trying to game the system, this is expected and it happens in many different industries. On Amazon, ranking and review manipulation have sparked multiple cottage industries that openly advertise and brag about their accomplishments.
Well respected influencers and mentors see manipulation as a normal and required function of the job. I don't agree with it or partake, but I'm not condemning them either. We each make our own decisions. While I don't think Id make those decisions if I were in their shoes, I can't say for certain.
This is unfortunate and I see it as much Amazons' fault as their own. Amazon could have enforced its' policies without waiver as it has in the past. Amazon takes one of two positions with this. They either claim to be a victim or that it does not happen on the platform. Meanwhile, buyers are misled all of the time as to a products true quality level and public sentiment about it.
Very few Prime members have not been bitten by the manipulation of the marketplace. That is the real issue that all of these things have caused. They leave negative reviews only to see them buried by additional seller manipulation of listings. It becomes a vicious circle with buyers and sellers as the losers.
This affects buyer trust which filters down to lost sales for sellers and the platform as market share is easily taken away by other platforms.
Amazon resembles the eBay of 2010 now more than it does the Amazon of 2010 while eBay resembles the Amazon of 2010. A compliment for eBay.
So why does this matter and affect sellers vs changing consumer expectations? Because as you will see in this article, consumer behaviors and expectations have changed, drastically, leaving sellers ill prepared to keep up.
Consumer Experience And Expectations Pre-Covid
RESEARCH OVERVIEW All data collected on 3/22/19 by Merkle
The study above is pre-COVID and the questions relate to Amazon as a platform not individual sellers. As you can see customer expectations were already changing from a price emphasis prevalent 5 to 8 years ago.
Amazon sellers are told that they need to do giveaways, or do full price rebates in order to rank and get incentivized reviews. For some, this method works well. It is a strategy like any other neither right or wrong when it is done within the rules. As a strategy, you need to determine whether it fits into your overall strategy, towards your goals and future moving forward.
Where many sellers blow it is not learning other strategies that will benefit their goals and result in additional capital going back to their bottom line in the form of increased margins. Giveaways and 100% rebates by themselves as a sellers' only strategies are unsustainable. You are paying people to take your products so that you can rank.
Where most sellers blow it is they either run out of product for long periods of time causing them to have to start from square one again or they do not understand their buyer at all and have not adequately optimized anything to close the sale once real buyers start hitting their listings.
Buyers seeking freebies are not the kind of buyer that businesses are built on. They will never buy from you again without another freebie. Training buyers to expect discounts from you with every purchase is not my idea of the type of buyer that I want. Take GoDaddy for example, Every time I would go to checkout on GoDaddy, I was faced with a huge 'Enter Coupon Code' box, so I'd open another tab and find a coupon code.
They also do not make up the majority of Amazon buyers. More than 2/3rds of Amazon Prime Members are over the age of 30. The reliance on discounts and freebies begins to nose dive with buyers over the age of 30 according to this research. There are plenty of other studies that also show the primary discount seekers in the US are in their 20's and the further from your 20's that you are, the less likely you are to seek discounts.
When you look at the chart, many influencers use this as their justification why rock bottom pricing is the key on Amazon which isn't always the case by any means.
The table and studies like it concern a consumers choice to use Amazon, not the choice of one seller over another on Amazon.
The rise of automated repricers and their popularity have more of an effect on low seller margins than they do buyer satisfaction.
Amazon and the repricing company are the only winners here. The seller suffers reduced margins. Many times the sellers' solution is pressuring their manufacturer, who reduces the quality of materials used to accommodate the sellers requests. In the end, the buyer loses out due to a reduction in quality to meet the reduction in sales price.
A decade ago, even five years ago, this still had a positive outcome. Changing consumer behavior already underway prior to 2020 only accelerated due to the mass migration online because of COVID. Consumer behavior and current trends indicate that Amazon's embracing of Chinese manufacturers who are not concerned with customer service, product quality or buyer sentiment may backfire.
The changes in the marketplace already haven't been well received by consumers. Buyer trust is suffering, this affects sales, and is well represented by the successes of other platforms in 2020.
Current trends in consumer expectations and behavior are not enhanced by any of the strategies and focus exhibited by most sellers. Actually, current trends among Amazon sellers directly conflict with consumer expectations.
Consumer Behavior and Expectations in 2021
While Amazon was ignoring issues and allowing the platform to lose integrity and trust, brick and mortar were fighting for their lives. They took things Amazon pioneered and combined it with certain strengths they posses to appeal to online buyers and gain back some advantage and market share.
Current trends in consumer expectations and behavior are not enhanced by any of the tricks and focus exhibited by most sellers. Actually current trends among Amazon sellers directly conflict with consumer expectations.
This leaves sellers particularly vulnerable as they do not market any type of personalization, customer relationship or in many cases even offer adequate customer service beyond full refunds and begging for negative review removal.
Digging into the results of the different studies, it appears that the buyers that you want do not want your freebies, rebates or manipulation. They want trust, engagement and presence.
The longevity of any company, online or offline, many times relies on its' ability to create return buyers, raving fans and build goodwill in the community. Even if you only sell a one-time purchase product, word of mouth and personal recommendations are very important, if not more important then multiple purchase items.
If you are a seller on Amazon only and purposely do not make the effort to engage your audience off of Amazon, your future requires more work or costs in the form of PPC and paid ads.. The additional effort that you need to make is expressed in PPC cost. There really is nothing wrong with this, if you do not mind, understand the costs involved and can still profit from it.
The Adobe study mentioned above points out that your buyers want to be able to engage with your brand in ways that go beyond the marketplace itself. According to those stats, a positive and active customer engagement strategy is worth the effort in that it has a very positive return on investment, including customer loyalty.
Your potential buyers are very platform loyal. This is 2021, not 2010. Sales used to be about closing the deal. People do not look at it that way any longer. The stats speak for themselves. Buyers want more. They want solutions. At the end of the day is it still the same thing? Yes, but not to them. You cannot win off of Amazon if your only method of communication is to try to close the sale.
Engaging Your Audience Off Of Amazon Multiplies Your Potential Drastically
Amazon is the cash register, the end of the journey. It is normal that the effort on Amazon is to focus directly on the sale. That doesn't work in the same fashion off of Amazon. People don't go to social media to purchase things they go to socialize. You can still market to them but you need to frame it as a conversation.
Help them gain value. Whether it is content you have created or a valuable resource that someone else created, you are building trust, establishing authority and leading them to the conclusion that your product offers them the best solution. It is to any sellers advantage to have a presence off of Amazon also.
On Amazon, your audience is limited to potential buyers in the purchase stage of the buyer journey. The minute that you begin engaging off of Amazon, your potential audience multiplies because now you can reach people in all of the stages of the buyers journey. This means you are still engaging purchasers, but also people in the decision stage, people in the research stage and people just getting to the awareness stage.
People Are Platform Loyal, But They Want Options
Anyone that knows me has heard me say that you must build your presence off of the marketplaces and offer multiple forms of payment options to your potential audience enabling them to pay using the platform/method/marketplace that they are most comfortable using. Marketing off of Amazon in this fashion explodes your audience potential.
It is no longer 2010, consumers purchase from the brands that they are the most comfortable with but they still purchase on the platforms that they trust. I am not an Amazon buyer. If you only offer me Amazon, you lost me. Why wouldn't you offer Amazon, and your website and/or other sales platforms, especially if you have them?
It is as simple as stating... "Now Available On These Fine Websites", at the bottom of your funnel. Add the Amazon logo which leads directly to your product page, and do the same for your website and other selling platforms. Offer 4 payment options max. Doing this gives you an advantage over any marketplace or individual retailer. Plus, any sale off of Amazon automatically saves you the Amazon commission.
I dont recommend fulfilling from Amazon. I recommend using a 3pl to fulfill all 3rd party orders. They can also drip feed product to FBA, lowering your Amazon storage fees.
The Adobe study referred to above mentions customer engagement, this is about more than just offering your products. You most loyal customers want to be able to engage with you across platforms. This means expanding your presence off of Amazon and engaging with your audience where they congregate the most, whether that's on social media, forums, or websites will vary by product and category.
The best way to handle this in my opinion is to build that community yourself. This is something that we are very good at and have specific systems and methods that we have built out to enable a seller to build out a community and drive sales. Once you have a community of people that trust you, the things they will buy based on your recommendation are endless.
Regardless of what any service seller says, this is not impossible to do, will not take years and will not cost millions to do either.
Mobile Customer Experience
When it comes to providing a positive experience across different channels, mobile customer service is expected to soar. The reason is simple – a bad mobile experience can do serious damage to your brand! Whether we are talking about the product display and sale or customer service, mobile is here to stay. Your website must be responsive or offer a mobile version. If not, you stand very little chance of success. The numbers speak for themselves.
Amazon has its' app which is mobile friendly and optimized. But sellers also need to embrace mobile sales and mobile listing optimization. If you have optimized your listings and did not do so from a mobile standpoint first, then your listings are not optimized and you are leaving money on the table.
Amazon mobile browsing numbers are much higher than those posted above. Oberlo stated at the beginning of 2020 that 88% of all browsing on Amazon started on mobile. Approx. 64% later converted to a sale on desktop but most of it started on mobile. There is only one chance for a first impression. Not optimizing a product page for mobile viewing means blowing your first impression.
Your own website must also be mobile friendly, usable and responsive. Most websites, themes and frameworks come with a mobile version inclusive. If it doesn't, it is not worth the effort. But you still need to make sure that after your info is loaded, that it still functions as expected, is fast and delivers the right information at the right time.
Customer Expectations Of Customer Service
I've always said that US Amazon sellers should concentrate on the things that they can offer that Amazon cannot or will not offer. Things such as real customer service. Amazon brags that it is buyer-centric, this couldn't be further from the truth. Amazons idea of customer service is to offer your money back no questions asked.
To be buyer-centric, Amazon would first have to be employee-centric and seller-centric because they interact with the buyers, not Jeff Bezos. Many times a buyer just wants assistance with an issue and is not seeking a refund or exchange. Amazon cannot assist with any issue, they don't even try.
Maintaining a presence off of Amazon can meet this expectation a buyer may have. There are many ways to help a buyer become aware of how to find you without violating TOS. The best way is by to maintain a presence off of Amazon and actively interact with your audience during the different stages of the buyers journey , of course. But there are other ways as well.
To get ungated, what must be on your packaging? Show me a major brand on Amazon that doesn't include standardized documentation, manuals, Instructions, warranty info that doesn't include company contact information. What you won't find on any of their inserts is the review ask.
Marketers will tell you that “the money is in the list” and they’re not joking.
According to the DMA, over 66% of buyers claim they purchased based on an email marketing message.
Email Marketing, on average, earns an ROI of $44.50 dollars per every 1 dollar spent
According to McKinsey & Company, email marketing is 40 times better at new customer acquisition than FB and Twitter combined
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Many sellers see the purchase as the last step minus the review before the end of the relationship
When was the last time that you made a purchase and left a review the minute you opened the box? I don't understand why sellers focus on asking on the inserts and doo not just wait to use the review button. But if you follow my recommendations for Ecommerce, you have already established social proof for your potential buyers long before they reach the purchase stage on Amazon.
Making yourself and your business available and recognizable to potential audience members off of Amazon ensures the possibility of a smoother customer service experience should problems occur. As seen with the numbers below, customer service is and will continue to be a major expectation from consumers. When you do not make your business available to consumers and leave customer service up to Amazon, it costs you money among other things.
RESEARCH OVERVIEW Super Office
Taken alone, the numbers above indicate the importance of providing superior customer service. How is an amazon seller to do something like this? But then looking at the final two metrics, there is some hope for a seller. first what a seller should do is begin a database of answers. Check the questions asked on your listings and those of competitors. Develop solid answers to each.
I'd also suggest looking for FAQ's on competitors websites and/or looking at asked on Quora. Your goal is to develop a decent sized database of information around your product. You can then easily develop a section on a website devoted to these questions and answers. If they are optimized correctly, they will rank very well in Google.
These can also be used to answer questions on Quora and build brand reach using Quora. You could easily set up something like Talkwalker alerts, which alert you each time your keyword phrase is mentioned and have a VA cut and paste the answers directly into Quora. As pf 2018(most recent numbers released), Quora has over 300 million monthly users. Most marketers avoid Quora because they cannot realize an immediate benefit. This is true, Quora is about the long game.
At Ecommerce Optimizer, we have a reputation of being very knowledgeable about Amazon since we have been selling and involved with the platform for over 15 years. For additional Amazon tips and strategy, check out our Dominate Amazon Products Series.
Amazon isn't the only marketplace that we have experience with. We have as much knowledge with traditional websites and marketplaces too. Check out our Sell On Walmart article, our list of Niche Marketplaces To Sell On as well as our article about expanding to Sell On Amazon Europe.
We focus on helping sellers grow their businesses and diversify reducing your dependance on any 1 platform while exponentially growing the available audience. In addition, we also have our FREE Pinterest Traffic Domination Workshop, a Pinterest Launching Service, 1 on 1 Coaching and several other workshops as well. Let us help you make 2021 your best year ever!
Where is Your Audience? You Should Be There Too
I'm going to use more than just Quora. I'm going to get involved in multiple Facebook groups that are relevant. Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter, and others. The goal is that you should be active wherever your audience congregates. Sometimes forums are a great place for involvement. The most successful sellers in the coming years will be the ones that can be found easily on the internet.
As a seller, your goal is to check off those 7 interactions that it takes with a brand before a buyer recognizes you and seeks you out. I'm going to post content for my subject that addresses users in the various stages of the buyer journey, not just the purchase stage which is all that you get on Amazon.
Think about it, how did your buyer on Amazon arrive at the realization that they need your product in the first place. They didn't realize it just now, searching Amazon. No they realized it previously from talking to others, or on social media or by searching information on google and looking at websites.
As a marketer, it is our job to find our audience. Using our Buyer Personas, we need to identify where our audience congregates. We need to identify which influencers our audience worships. What leads our audience to need a product like ours in the first place
The Most Relevant Metric
Of all of the different metrics that I added to this article, I think the absolute most important metric is this.
Recommendations from friends/family is the #1 way for new customers to trust an unfamiliar brand.
Amazon has zero social reach. But if you run a social proof contest with Amazon buyers, you not only establish user recommendations but also social proof. Why do you think the Internet is referred to as the web? It is your job as a marketer to create an extended web of interactions for potential buyers to interact with your brand so you can establish yourself as the best solution for however it is that your product serves them.
Conclusion: Build The Customer Experience That Your Audience Seeks
Offer what neither Amazon nor your fly by night foreign competitors can, service, a human face to your business, and creating those 7 interactions with your potential audience off of amazon long before they get to the purchase stage and go to Amazon.
Your goal is to be the recognized brand in your buyers' mind before they get to the purchase stage. Then you get more branded searches and you consistently are a top seller in your category with or without tons of reviews. Social proof and brand awareness should be established before any buyer searches to purchase on Amazon.
You also build out your presence off of Amazon and pick up all of the non-Amazon members that you will undoubtedly see in your marketing off of Amazon. Diversification is the number 1 thing any seller can do to protect themselves and their future from the inevitable Amazon suspension. If you only sell on Amazon and rely on Amazon for 100% of your sales and traffic creation, you don't have a viable brand.
When you get suspended, what do you have? Only the inventory not already at Amazon, you have no recognizable brand, no following, no mailing list and in many cases no way for a pervious buyer to find you. I'm not knocking anyone, hopefully, I'm waking you up or making that lightbulb in your head come on.