Attachment to ‘offline experience’ holds Light Online Shoppers back from increasing online purchases in March; seamless experience key for merchants’ online growth

In our last blog about a March forecast for both offline and online purchases, we identify a correlation between consumers’ current online purchase frequency and their intentions to buy less/more online in March. Heavy Online Shoppers (5+ bi-weekly online purchases) are most positive towards increasing online purchases in March, as one may expect. But Light Online Shoppers (1 bi-weekly online purchase) are more hesitant to shop online in March. In Germany and Norway, Light Online Shoppers even state that they intend to decrease online purchases in March.

What are the main barriers for Light Online Shoppers’ to buy more online in March? We find a quite consistent consumer view across the Netherlands, Germany and Norway: Light Online Shoppers are attached to specific aspects that are characteristic for the offline shopping experience - they prefer to see products before they buy them and they state to enjoy supporting and visiting physical stores.

But besides the overall barriers that Light Online Shoppers have with regards to shopping online, previous experience can also hinder this group from making more online purchases in the future. For this reason, we look closer at Light Online Shoppers’ satisfaction with the online shopping experience. Overall, we see that Light Online Shoppers are more satisfied with the initial stages of the purchase journey (low prices, products in stock etc.), but they are less satisfied with the later stages of the purchase journey (customer care, return process). This is an effect of Light Online Shoppers ‘incomplete’ transition to purchasing online: Light Online Shoppers still have offline expectations of their online purchase experience. Light Online Shoppers are surprisingly delighted with the prices and the wealth of products available online, but they are less impressed with customer care- and the return process in later stages of the online purchase journey.

Considering Light Online Shoppers’ barriers to shop more online (prefer to see products before they buy them and they state to enjoy supporting and visiting physical stores) and lower levels of satisfaction (customer care, return process), we can conclude that merchants need to offer a more seamless purchase journey to further ‘loyalize’ this segment.

The Light Online Shopper segment – although small in impact (share of all purchases in February: 6% in the Netherlands, 7% in Germany and 13% in Norway) – is essential for merchants due to its large potential to grow. And we have seen them shift to online channels at a faster pace than any other segment. To meet Light Online Shoppers demands (i.e. create a more seamless purchase journey) merchants can consider either improving processes and/or improving communications. When making a cost-benefit assessment, it is likely that adapting communications, and so better managing the expectations of Light Online Shoppers, is less costly than organizing processes differently.

Perceived barriers to increase online purchases among German, Dutch and Norwegian consumers

We see clear correlations between consumers’ intention to increase/decrease online purchases in March and their shopping frequency, (Heavy-, Medium- and Light Online Shoppers).

In both the Netherlands and Germany, we see that the barrier that decreases most with an increase online purchase frequency is the ‘concern that ordered products don’t live up to expectations’. This is a large barrier to shop more online among Light Online Shoppers, and it decreases in magnitude the more a consumer buys online. This also means that seeingSeeing, trying and feeling products before buying online is of less importance for Heavy Online Shoppers. They are more digitally advanced and shop online with more confidence. A secondary barrier, in terms of impact on Light Online Shoppers’ intention to increase online purchases, is the fact that these consumers place a high value on local physical stores. They not only want to support local stores, but they also see local stores as a destination to get out of their home.



In both Germany and the Netherlands, we also see specific aspects that have a higher impact on Heavy Online Shoppers purchase intentions: for these shoppers it is mostly the financial perspective that holds them back from making more online purchases – maybe not surprising as they in fact are already ‘heavy’ shoppers and with a bigger spend. Another barriers for Heavy Online Shoppers to increase online purchases is previous bad online shopping experiences (‘worried about online purchase process’).

In Norway, we see a similar pattern regarding how wanting to see, feel and try before buying has a different impact onLight, Medium and Heavy Online Shoppers. But to the contrary of Dutch and German consumers, a key barrier among Light Online Shoppers in Norway to increase online purchases is their personal finances. In addition, we do not see the same correlation in Norway between online shopping frequency and the value placed on local stores. I.e. physical stores are equally important among Norwegians regardless of how much they buy online.

Consumers’ satisfaction with (and expectations of) merchants

We see that consumers’ online purchase frequency correlates with how satisfactied they are with merchants’ performance. Overall, we see that Light Online Shoppers are more satisfied with the initial stages of the purchase journey (low prices, products in stock etc.), but they are overall less satisfied with the later stages of the purchase journey (customer care, return process).

Zooming into the Netherlands, wee see that the less you purchase online the more satisfied you are with merchants regarding aspects that play a role in the earlier stages of the purchase and customer journey, like shipping and delivery, having low prices and products in-stock. In later stages of the purchase process (customer care and return process), we don’t see any differences in satisfaction levels between shoppers based shopping frequency.

 

And in Germany, we also see that Light Online Shoppers are more satisfied with the earlier stages of the purchase process (merchants having low prices, good payment processes and products in-stock). However, consumers who shop online less are less satisfied with aspects that arise in later stages of the customer journey (customer care and return process).

In Germany and the Netherlands, we see consistent differences in customer satisfaction levels from Light-, to Medium- and Heavy Online Shoppers. But in Norway, we see a slightly different pattern: Medium- and Light Online Shoppers differ from Heavy Online Shoppers. With the exception of low prices, where Light Online Shoppers are significantly more satisfied than Medium- and Heavy Online Shoppers, both Medium- and Light Online Shoppers s are more satisfied with aspects that they encounter in the earlier stages of the customer journey, becoming less satisfied in later stages of the customer journey (customer care and return process).

Why are Light Online Shoppers more satisfied with the earlier stages of the customer journey, becoming less satisfied (in general) as their purchase journey continues? We argue that Light Online Shoppers have not yet fully transitioned their shopping behavior to the online experience. As a result, they apply offline experience expectations to online channels. When it comes to online channels, Light Online Shoppers are delighted with lower prices and the wealth of products available in early stages of the customer and purchase journey. But as their journey progresses, Light Online Shoppers become less satisfied as online customer care and the process of returning items bought online do not match the ‘personal’ experience that they encounter in brick-and-mortar stores.

What is next?

Coming soon is our mid-month update about the inflow of consumers into online channels so far in March. Stay tuned!