The hybrid customer experience may be the key to your eCommerce success

Kate Hassey profile picture
Last updated: 19 Mar 2019
Having the right eCommerce strategy is vital to your business’s long-term success. But when developing a strategic plan, most eCommerce businesses these days concentrate all of their efforts on their online presence. After all, that’s where the customers are, right?

Yes, many do prefer to do their shopping online, but that’s not the end of the story. As it turns out, based on a recent study, many customers actually prefer a hybrid experience over one that is entirely online or in-person.

The hybrid experience

What exactly is a hybrid experience?

The hybrid experience is a shopping experience that combines elements of both eCommerce and traditional retail stores. A good example in understanding the hybrid experience is how many companies now let customers order products online and pick them up at one of their local stores. Many stores also allow customers to return items they ordered online to a local store to receive a refund.

Carvana, for example, is a relatively new company that has embraced the hybrid experience in a big way. The company’s business model involves selling slightly used vehicles online for less than what traditional car dealers sell them for. Customers can order cars online and have them shipped to their homes. They then have seven days to decide whether to keep them or return them for a full refund.

But Carvana customers also have another option. They can travel to a Carvana location and pick up their new vehicles in person if they want. And to make things interesting, the company has created what it calls a “car vending machine,” which is a five-story automated car storage and retrieval system. 

Carvana customers are given a large token. When placed in a token receptacle, the system is activated and the vehicle they selected is pulled from inventory and placed right in front of them – just like a vending machine

In the Carvana example, and with other companies that have embraced the hybrid experience, the important takeaway is customers aren’t necessarily looking for a traditional retail experience or an online experience. They are looking for a shopping experience that makes them feel like a valued customer. It’s about offering customers a superior shopping experience, and it’s a strategy you can embrace with your eCommerce business to take it to the next level, win over more customers, and close more sales.  

New research on the customer experience

The idea that customers prefer the hybrid experience isn’t just an abstract idea or theory. Recent research confirms it. 

Researchers behind Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index) recently measured the effects of online, traditional, and hybrid shopping experiences on customer loyalty. In the study, 314 US companies were studied. The results of the study were very revealing.

In 2016 and 2017, customer experiences that were fully online experienced a one percent decline, while customer experiences that were hybrid actually increased by one percent. For large companies, a one percent change in either direction can represent either a loss or gain of hundreds of millions in revenue.

The reason why the hybrid experience was deemed better than online or traditional experiences is mainly about convenience. Customers aren’t necessarily looking for a specific shopping experience, per se. Rather, they are looking for the best overall shopping experience for their wants and needs. They want a shopping experience that works, one that is simple and easy and without any pain points. 

The emotional response to the shopping experience is another important factor. A positive emotional response increases brand loyalty. If a company’s overall shopping experience is pleasant, customers tend to remember that and often become repeat customers as a result. 

Developing your hybrid experience strategy

If you want to cash in on the benefits of the hybrid shopping experience, you’ll need to develop a strategy to implement hybrid solutions in your own eCommerce business. There are many different ways you can do this, and a strategy that works for one company isn’t necessarily going to work for another. Still, there is a general approach to developing a strategy that does work well for most businesses. 

The first thing you want to do is to brainstorm ways you can transform your eCommerce business from a solely online venture into a hybrid business. What are some ways you can improve the customer experience by adding a physical element to your business? Write down everything that comes to mind and then carefully consider each idea to see if it makes sense financially for you to pursue. 

The next thing is to implement your idea to see if you see an increase in customer loyalty and repeat business. If you do come up with more than one idea, it’s important to experiment with only one idea at a time. That way you will be able to easily determine the things that work and those that don’t. Consider split testing your ideas. Measure shopping outcomes prior to implementing ideas and after so you can have a clear comparison of the results. 

You also want to consider investing in the latest technologies if a technological solution will be a part of your strategy. How long has a particular technology been around? You don’t want to run into a situation where you invest in a technology only to find out something better and/or more affordable is about to be released.

Which companies offer the technology you are interested in? Take the time to evaluate different options to see which company offers the best solution for your needs. Other factors to consider when evaluating options include how much customer support is offered, availability of product training, and overall ease of use. 

Finally, when developing your hybrid experience strategy, it’s vitally important to always remember what customers are looking for. It isn’t an issue of online versus offline. Rather, it’s about the overall shopping experience. The purpose of developing a hybrid strategy is to increase brand loyalty. Anything that takes away from that goal should be discarded. 

The bottom line

At the end of the day, you could just continue doing the things that have already made you successful and not bother with embracing the hybrid experience. Why rock the boat? But ignoring the power of the hybrid experience is leaving money on the table. 

Making the hybrid experience a part of your strategy is really about increasing customer loyalty, brand recognition, and revenue. It’s about increasing the bottom line. 

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