Customer Trust and Calculated Innovation Is Central to Company Growth

BOSTON — Customer trust and retention should be top concerns for organizations if they are to optimize their e-commerce operations and maintain steady growth, speakers asserted at day one of eTail East.

Pablo Cohan, senior business leader of U.S. emerging payments at Mastercard and chairman of this year's conference, kicked off the event by outlining some of the prominent challenges facing online retailers today. As customers begin to use new forms of digital payment on their devices, the risks of losing them will take new forms, Cohan said. If companies are to retain customers and add new ones, they must accommodate developing preferences for new devices and modes of payment, reduce the likelihood of security risks on those channels, and create better customer experiences. "The last thing you want to do is disrupt customers [when they're checking out]," Cohan said.

Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com and mobile, followed Cohan on stage to talk about how vital e-commerce channels are to pleasing customers. He recalled a snafu the retailer experienced when launching its Lilly Pulitzer for Target Web site last year. The night of the release, a bug led customers to an error screen that blocked them from completing their purchases. Frustrated users voiced their complaints on social media, with one going so far as to call it "the worst day of [her] life," and another claiming she would never forgive the brand for it. "Whenever customers want to do something, the answer [should be] yes," Goldberger said. "Even if it causes [the company] short-term pain." Target has instituted customer-first initiatives such as curbside pickup and free shipping services, and though such options might keep customers away from brick-and-mortar locations, they'll lead to big-picture gains, Goldberger maintains.

Jeff Barto, trust strategist at Symantec, emphasized the importance of "projecting trust," particularly when it comes to user experience on company Web sites. Online shoppers often abandon their carts because of hefty shipping fees encountered at checkout, Barto says, but a largely overlooked source of anxiety is a lack of security. Barto cited a statistic from Econsultancy that notes that 50 percent of shoppers will drop out mid-transaction because of security qualms. He suggested that companies strive to earn a reputation for security, like getting stamps of approval from third parties such as the Online Trust Alliance and Alexa. The rule doesn’t apply exclusively to large brands, either, Barto asserted. "Some of us haven't heard of iherb.com, but they're doing trust just as well as Netflix and Amazon," he said.  

For some companies, investments in Web site maintenance and content has proven to be a source of continual growth. Such has been the case at MyBinding.com, according to Jeff McRitchie, the company's vice president of marketing. During his breakout session, McRitchie said his company got creative to grow its e-commerce brand in a seemingly limited industry. For MyBinding.com, a supplier of binding supplies, much of its success has depended on improving the structure of its Web site and how it organizes various categories that people search for. The company has tried to understand what customers are entering into search bars, for example, to get a better sense of how items should be laid out on a page. Also important  to customers has been the endorsement of trusted third-party sources. "The introduction of high-quality trust marks that people recognize help generate growth," he said.

Another growth generator: making a site more navigable. "The easiest thing you can do [to improve experience] is speed up your site," McRitchie said. "There are like 10 vendors here dedicated to helping you speed up your site."

Highlighted throughout day one was the importance of innovation that leads to differentiation. Companies shouldn't be afraid to try out new ideas and technologies, and take risks, even if those lead to some failures, speakers agreed. "Failure is good if it forces you to do better," Goldberger said. However, there should be good reason to innovate—it shouldn't be done for its own sake.

During a keynote panel on innovation, Cindy Starr, senior vice president of marketing at Vistaprint, referred to the compulsion to adopt new trends as "shiny object syndrome." "Know who you are," Starr advised. "Not every innovative thing you hear about online is right for your company." 

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