We probably can all agree the ten steps below – give or take a few minor deviations – describe a typical online customer transaction:

Step 1: Receive promotional email from retailer (optional)
Step 2: Navigate to retailer’s eCommerce site
Step 3: Browse online selection
Step 4: Add items to cart
Step 5: Complete checkout process
Step 6: Receive order confirmation email
Step 7: Wait
Step 8: Receive order shipment email with tracking number
Step 9: Wait
Step 10: Receive order

Seems pretty simple, right? I didn’t have to comb through our knowledge library or conduct a survey to compile this list. It is based on my own online shopping experiences, which frankly include enough ‘collected data points’ to publish a research piece. Most consumers are comfortable with these steps, even though they just describe the typical transaction. As a retailer, you probably strive to not only meet but also exceed these expectations. Or in other words, Step 11 is a happy customer who will continue to repeat Steps 1 through 10 with you.
But when the process dips below the typical it becomes pretty apparent how missing just one step, can send your customer into a panic and possibly away for good. However, if a retailer is able to overcome the misstep, they may be able to provide an even greater customer experience. To illustrate, I will use two recent atypical ordering experiences.

Experience #1:
For this experience, one of the purchasing motivators were the level of product descriptions and customer reviews included throughout the website. Plus, while on the site, I noticed a banner offering a promo code for creating an account. Completed Steps 1 thru 5 without any problems. Clicked submit. And…waited. No confirmation email, but it was late so I went to bed fully expecting to see an email by morning. Midafternoon the next day and inbox and spam folders checked, no email. That’s all right because I created an account so I could access the order…and for the discount. Signed into my account and clicked the “Order History” link. The next screen almost made choke on my coffee. It wanted me to enter my last name and order number or the last 4-digits of the credit card used. Really? Isn’t the point of creating an account to keep track of my name, order number and optimally my preferred method of payment? Since I could find no history of my order, I called customer service and was told they could not provide an order number, though they could see they “an order” existed. I was later informed that their ecommerce system was down, but my order would be processed as soon as possible.
In the end, there was no further contact from customer service, I had no visibility to my order status and the order was fulfilled via four different shipments with no shipping/tracking notices, everyday was a ‘wait and see.’
Experience #2:
This past holiday season, I placed a gift order with a specialty retailer that operates only online. Full disclosure: the gift was for me, buta gift nonetheless. Before placing the order, I noted the estimated shipping time for the item was 48 hours. I received two emails after placing my order: one confirming the order and the other for the creation of the account. Typical; but that is where it stopped. Two weeks later, the order was still marked as processing (Step 7). After calling customer service and a brief hold, I was notified there was not enough inventory to fulfill the order. However, I was offered a full refund and a store credit equal to double the dollar amount of my order. I could live with that. Above typical. Fast forward to this spring and the store credit on the verge of expiring. Completed Steps 1 thru 6 once, unfortunately found myself still stuck on Step 7 again. This time, the order was marked as shipped though there was no shipping email or tracking number attached to the order. Three emails and four phone calls later, still no clue of the accurate status of the order. On the fifth call, I was assigned a personal stylist and was told he would contact me within the hour. 37 minutes later as promised (according to my call history) Cameron* called me to say he tracked down my item and was shipping it overnight. My customer + retail curiosity led to a very frank discussion about what exactly happened and segued into observations about their ecommerce and inventory systems. The next morning, as I was pulling up the UPS tracking app, my deliveryman (who I am on a first name basis with) walked in with my package. Finally, I received a follow-up email from Cameron to say he hoped I enjoyed my new item and provided his direct contact if I need future assistance.
So by now, you are probably asking why do I even continue to shop online. Well, because it is convenient (typically), it is easy (typically), I can access it on-demand, I can take my time to browse without any pressure or perhaps make a quick transaction in less than three minutes. When comparing the two experiences, I think it is fair to say that even though both retailers delivered atypical experiences the difference was proper communication – another reason why I continue to shop online. Customers are willing to give a faceless checkout screen personal and financial details because we assume that we will have transparency throughout the entire process. When that process becomes opaque, the new expectation becomes almost insurmountable. Even though both retailers delivered communication failures (twice from retailer #2), the latter was able to keep me as a customer because:
a. 95% of the time they get the steps right;
b. when they don’t, they own up to the mistake (human error or not) and try to make it right; and
c. every order feels like a personalized experience…but more on that next week.
 – Courtney


*name has been changed to protect the innocent

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Published On: June 20, 2013Categories: Communication, Customer Experience, eCommerce, The Parker Avery Group