The Post-Purchase Brand Experience

Mar 13 2017

As I’ve mentioned in previous writings, the post-purchase phase of the consumer’s brand experience has the greatest potential influence on a consumer’s relationship with a retailer. In an IBM study of 1,500 US consumers, we found that:

  • Eighty-five percent more consumers aged 40 and above say the post-purchase experience has a greater potential to strengthen the brand relationship than the pre-purchase (a.k.a. “shopping”) experience.
  • A staggering 248% more consumers feel that the post-purchase phase has a greater potential to damage the brand relationship than the pre-purchase phase.
  • The post-purchase phase even showed that it has the ability to recover from a poor pre-purchase experience with 63% of respondents indicating that a positive post-purchase experience is likely to be able to overcome a poor pre-purchase experience.
  • Not surprisingly, then, when asked which of the pre- or post-purchase experiences is most important in forming the customer’s lasting impression of the retailer, respondents placed the post-purchase experience head and shoulders above the pre-purchase experience with 67% more consumers voting for the post-purchase phase.

So, then, you might ask what the importance of the post-purchase experience has to do with the store. After all, with the exception of returns, stores have always been about the “shopping” (pre-purchase) and checkout (purchase) experience. But, the steady increase in consumers’ inclination to shop, buy, and receive purchases across multiple channels has changed that.

Seventy-nine percent of consumers say they’re likely to opt for in-store pickup of an online or mobile order (up 30% from five years ago). Even if free shipping is an option, that percentage only drops by two points. Meanwhile, the same percentage of consumers say they’re likely to take advantage of in-store returns if available. So, with digital sales growing at a faster rate than comp store sales, the store’s role as a fulfillment and return center is becoming more prevalent.

And, with 82% of consumers saying that in-store pickup — and 87% saying that in-store returns — are important enough to cause them to shop one retailer over another, enabling stores to support these cross-channel preferences is more important than ever. But, it gets even better. Not only do consumers want these services, they expect the in-store experience to be “quick, easy, and convenient” (79% for pickup and 83% for returns). And, with such high expectations associated with the post-purchase experience, the stakes are even higher for stores and the impact they can have on the brand relationship during the post-purchase phase.

But, consumers are upping the ante for stores even more. Eighty-four percent want to be able to track shipment and delivery status of their online order via any channel (including the store). [Can you imagine walking up to a store associate and asking them when your online order is due to be delivered?] More reasonably, 87% of consumers consider it important to be notified when their online/mobile purchase is ready for pickup in the store. But, once again, consumer expectations continue to rise. A full 80% percent of consumers consider it important for a retailer to be able to guarantee when an online/mobile purchase will be available for pickup in the store. For many retailers that support in-store pickup of online purchases, their store processes are simply not automated enough to live up to these expectations… or to do so efficiently.

But, it gets even better. Consumers are showing a general aversion to shipping charges. A full 90% of consumers say that having low or no shipping charges is important to very important when deciding whether or not to make an online purchase. In fact, 61% say that they frequently choose not to make an online purchase due to shipping charges. Meanwhile, consumers are showing a growing taste for expedited delivery. When asked how important speed of delivery is when choosing to buy from one retailer over another, 72% say they consider it important to very important.

In response to these constraints — to say nothing about the pressure felt from Amazon’s never-ending quest for rapid delivery — retailers are leaning on stores to fulfill additional online orders by enabling ship-from-store capabilities. This, of course, gives stores that many more opportunities to impact the post-purchase experience for consumers (e.g., with picking/packing errors, missed shipping windows, lack of shipment status information, etc.). And, this is the real crux of the issue. Is it enough to simply offer these omni-channel services for online/mobile purchases? Or, do you have to do it well — lest you risk delivering a less-than-satisfactory brand experience in the one phase that has the greatest potential to damage the brand relationship you have with your customers?

This is precisely why many retailers are going back and looking at their in-store omni-channel processes — and the tools they’re providing to their store associates — to view the consumer’s brand experience through more critical eyes. Many are finding inefficiencies in store execution and inconsistencies in the brand experience they’re delivering to their omni-channel customers. And, as we saw earlier, consumers have made it clear that the post-purchase phase is the last place you want to fall short of the mark.

With these thoughts in mind, we recommend that you mystery shop several of your stores to see how efficiently and effectively they support omni-channel processes for online/mobile orders. As the customer, are you able inquire about that status of your order via multiple channels (e.g., online, via the call center, in the store)? Are you proactively notified when the status of your order changes (e.g., order received, projected pickup time, ready for pickup, picked up or shipping and delivery notification)? Is it clear where you need to go to pick up your purchase in the store? What,if any, special documentation do you have to have with you to pick up the item? How quick and convenient is the in-store pickup process? Are you notified that your order has been picked up?

Prior to pickup, how timely and efficient is the in-store process for: receiving a new pick notice, picking orders, tracking whether there are any outstanding orders that need to be escalated, marking the pick as complete. When the customer arrives to pick up her order, how easy is it to locate the item in question? How efficiently are exceptions handled? How is the pickup noted in the system?

In a 2016 IBM/Aberdeen study of 100 US retailers, 79% of respondents surveyed said they support buy on line, pick up in store. More than 1/3rd of them admitted that their processes “need improvement.” Similarly, 73% of retailers surveyed said they support in-store returns of online purchases. But, a whopping 52% admitted that their processes “need improvement.”

Regardless of whether your focus is primarily on the brick and mortar or online channel, consumers’ brand experiences increasingly span these, and other, channels. And, increasingly, the online shopping experience is ending with a post-purchase experience that’s dependent on the store to execute effectively and efficiently. It’s imperative, therefore, that you view the consumer’s brand experience in its entirety… particularly the post-purchase experience.

Auteur: Courtesy of John Stelzer