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The Newest Consumer Malady:
Post-Transaction Anxiety Disorder (PTAD)
A few years ago—soon after the first e-commerce sites were launched—the symptoms of a previously-unknown consumer malady began appearing around the globe. Tell-tale signs that one had caught the disease included shipping-charge sticker shock and anxiety about whether gifts ordered online would actually arrive. As time passed, it became evident that the Christmas shopping season not only increased the severity of symptoms but greatly expanded the number of infected victims. Sadly, many children developed a form of the disease at this time of the year; their symptoms included crying while displaying empty stockings.
The malady? Let's call it Post-Transaction Anxiety Disorder (PTAD). Its symptoms are many, indeed—but there is a cure.
Companies today are eager to embrace the immense opportunities of online commerce. Yet, even the most successful commercial sites fail to translate the lessons learned from centuries of land-based retailing and merchandising into online transactions. Online shopping is a very new medium, but shopping is not a new activity. Too many companies have jumped on the e-commerce bandwagon without bothering to construct a proper infrastructure, one perfected by their land-based counterparts over centuries of retailing. One example among many: in the online world as in the brick and mortar world, customers need a clear estimation of shipment and delivery dates to mitigate their concerns.
The relatively low barriers to online entry, made possible by easy access to capital and web design software, have led to a proliferation of web store fronts—but behind them, no one is minding the store. Consumer tolerance is already wearing thin. Frustrating user experiences undermine customer loyalty and lead us to question why online stores purport to be vendors when they can't deliver the goods.
THE CURE IS IN THE DIS-EASE
Many challenges existing in creating a fully-integrated supply chain in which all links have achieved the desired level of inventory management and back office incorporation, and a diverse product offering poses even greater challenges. Despite these difficulties, companies must manage customer expectation and must implement successful web-based customer service and support. Online retailers must recognize the relationships between effective post-transaction communication, order fulfillment and customer loyalty. These relationships begin with the checkout process and end with the ultimate receipt and possible return of products.
The cure for the newest consumer malaise, Post-Transaction Anxiety Disorder, can only be effected by its hosts—the very companies that created the dis-ease.
MINE FIELDS OF DREAMS
E-commerce certainly has been the stuff of dreams. Vast fortunes have been made by young and old alike—but mostly by the young. The memories of these New Economy entrepreneurs are very short, as most were not even in grade school during the last bear market a mere 18 years ago. Such youngsters are unprepared for the fact that many of these dreams will turn to nightmares as share prices plummet and options become worthless, the inevitable result of unsustainable business models and sub-standard business practices.
Online vendors need to grow up. They must stop thinking of their virtual stores as a playground in which all the other kids are begging to play. They must stop thinking they own the game and make up the rules. Online retail success doesn't work that way. The game and the rules belong to the customer, not the retailer. Please the customer and you will succeed; don't, and you won't.
User experiences should therefore become the domain of executive committees and corporate strategists. The fantasies of easy money built on minefields of shortsightedness will either be replaced by brick and mortar stores delivering customers what they want and need – satisfying shopping experiences – or by online stores who know that the only way to succeed is by pleasing the customer.
Finally, online companies must remember that investors wear many hats—including that of customers. Share prices, which have sadly become the motivation of nearly all e-commerce entrepreneurs and management teams, are influenced by investor perception. If investors as customers don't have satisfying online shopping experiences, it follows that their disappointment will ultimately be registered by lower share prices. The New Economy does not mean New Economics. Share prices over time will always reflect the underlying value of the company and future performance potential – performance in terms of revenue. Revenue will only be generated from e-commerce sites if the entire customer experience mirrors the successful business practices of the brick and mortar counterparts.
UNFULFILLING ORDER FULFILLMENT
The success of online stores will depend upon bridging the gap between the purchase and delivery of goods and effectively managing customer expectations through post-transaction communication. Shopping has been for many a source of comfort and emotional fulfillment. This can hardly be said of online shopping. In fact, the opposite is usually the case. Until customers receive what they want, when they want it, and can return it if they don't want it from online stores, the experience of online shopping will remain unfulfilling to customers—and profits will remain elusive to online vendors.
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The preceding editorial was written by Shelley Taylor
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