E-commerce had been trending steadily upward for years. Then the pandemic came along and did exactly what you’d expect a globally disruptive force to do: It changed everything very, very quickly.
What happened exactly? The U.S. Department of Commerce reported a 30% increase in online spending from 2019 to 2020 (compared to the previous 13% increase year over year). More than 62% of consumers now say they’re shopping online more than they used to, with 36% reporting they shop online weekly. And in the realm of technology, Centercode research revealed that 55% of consumers planned to skip in-store shopping completely and purchase new tech devices online — an 8% increase from 2019.
The pandemic — and the unprecedented uptick in e-commerce that came with it — has changed the way your customers are buying tech, especially hardware products. That means that for makers of these tech products, those shifts in behavior raise the stakes of every release. Anything less than a perfected product might sink your brand reputation.
Winning over your customers first requires an understanding of how changes brought by 2020 affected purchasing habits and behavior. Here are the four biggest shifts in how your customers are operating — and the one thing you need to do to win them over in 2021.
Purchases Are More Research-Driven
Times of want and uncertainty put a spotlight on saving money and getting the best value for that money. One survey found that the pandemic has led 70% of consumers to increase saving behaviors. Other studies showed 2 out of 5 consumers are delaying large purchases, while 1 in 5 is actively researching brand and product choices before buying.
Consumers doing homework before they purchase tech hardware means less reliance on brand reputation, touch/feel, and sales floor recommendations and looking instead to star ratings, testimonials, and reviews. Your product will be pitted against its competitors on an even playing field, with customers seeking out the smallest weaknesses that could sway them one way or another. This is great news — if your product is hitting the quality and customer satisfaction marks it needs to impress potential buyers. If not, that’s a different story.
Customers Are Embracing Flexible Return Policies
Many businesses have adopted more flexible return policies to accommodate both delays in shipping due to the pandemic and the difficulty and sometimes impossibility of returning products in person. And with these changes to return policies, usually in the form of longer return windows, customers have less of an incentive to keep products that don’t perform to their high expectations (more on that in a moment).
Consider that with the amount of research going into online purchases, alternatives are always top of mind. Customers may even purchase a few options with the intent to keep the best one and return the rest. If friction arises with setup, connectivity, or functionality, a flexible return policy may be the deciding factor between calling your support team or packing your product back into a shipping box.
Customers Are Getting More Self-Reliant
The shift toward e-commerce and away from brick-and-mortar retail means customers are less able to get the expertise of in-store salespeople to help with tasks like setup and installation. In pre-pandemic times, a sales associate may have prompted someone purchasing a smart lock or connected appliance to save time and hassle by scheduling a professional installation.
But this natural, in-person segway to professional installation is a much harder sell online. The process is less straight-forward. It may even seem more costly or unnecessary without a real person to verbalize its benefits. Not to mention the perceived risk of inviting a stranger into your home in the era of stay-at-home and social distancing.
With fewer professionals in the mix, hardware devices with potentially complex setups or maintenance need to be more accessible for less technical audiences. Those attempting these DIY projects are not necessarily more patient, either. A survey revealed more than half of consumers would return a product that was difficult to install, while 70% would return a product that is difficult to operate.
Customers Have Very High Expectations
They’ve done their research, they’ve read reviews, they’ve weighed their options. They know the return policy. They’ve finally ordered a product they’re hopeful will be exactly what they need. Now they’re tracking the package, counting down the days until it arrives on their doorstep.
Customer expectations were high before the pandemic — and they’ve only gotten higher from there. One report showed that 1 in 3 customers would switch brands after a single bad experience. The same data revealed that only 1 out of every 26 customers complain about these negative experiences; the rest just leave (and may badmouth the product or brand to their friends offline).
This makes not only meeting but exceeding expectations critical to satisfying your customers, keeping returns low, star ratings high, and your bottom line on the rise.
The One Thing You Need to Do
So, how do you do it all: outpace your competitors, avoid returns, exceed your customers’ sky-high expectations, and blow your revenue out of the water? In short, how do you go from offering your customers something good to something great?
It’s pretty simple, actually: perfect your product.
If it sounds impossible, trust us — it’s not. Market research, quality testing, user experience, and product analytics are absolutely essential to building a good product. But delivering a great tech product requires getting it out of the lab and into the hands and true environments of its future users before release.
That’s where Delta Testing comes in. It’s essential to fixing deep-seated issues that compromise user experience, beefing up your roadmap with qualitative customer insights, and highlighting the very best your product and brand has to offer. We’ve helped hundreds of companies run thousands of projects with millions of testers to bring game-changing products to market. See for yourself: Check out our customers and our list of use cases in our ebook, Making Good Tech Great.