When Online Delivered a Better Experience Than Offline

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For most aspects – technology, ecommerce, applications, or fashion trends, I belong to the category of late adopters.

I have been extra cautious about ecommerce and online payments. My first online purchase was in 2013 when I bought a book in Kindle format to read on my iPad.

While I continue to prefer buying “in-shop” or “offline”, I have made considerable foray in the last five years in my online adventures, moving from low-investment purchases like books, cosmetics, and food, to clothes, small household items, and the odd furniture. I may never buy a mobile phone or laptop online, and will definitely not buy footwear or jewelry.

My initial online shopping for clothes was not a great experience. What I got was not what I saw on the web store.

Then, I chanced upon a brand that sold only via two channels – online and through exhibitions held in various cities.

Here’s an experience of both.

The online shopping experience

This apparel brand seems to have nailed the online experience. The clothes were neatly showcased by pattern, size, colour, and fabric, which made locating the clothes super easy.

Elegant pieces of prose described the garments, their designs, and their inspiration. There were no complicated alphanumeric style codes. Each garment style was given its own exotic name.

Suggestions were provided for matching pieces and accessories. It was easy to pick up the full look.

Their size-chart was highly detailed, accurate and very clear in that the sizes referred to the garments. So the customer could decide the fit – loose, fitted, tight. I never had to exchange a product because the size was wrong. Zoom-in features from at least five angles and perspectives gave customers a real feel of print, pattern, colour, and fabric.

A key feature was the availability of a real human being at the end of a customer service number that was boldly displayed on the web pages. In the age of AI and chatbots, this is a rare treat. Executives were also available on FB Messenger to respond to queries. Questions and comments to their Facebook posts were always greeted with highly personalised responses and speedily. There were no stock, copy-paste replies.

They had picked the best ecommerce technologies for their web store creation and mobile application. Uncluttered layouts and easy navigation made for a great UX/UI. The e-store was integrated with efficient order processing and order tracking tools. Order fulfillment was exceptionally smooth, with day-to-day updates provided for tracking and delivery status.

The clothes were almost always delivered in five days, packaged in simple, yet classic reusable bags. From search to delivery, it has always been a hassle-free experience.

Oh! Yes, the clothes themselves were fabulous, never failing to draw admiring glances and comments.

The offline shopping experience:

Now that I was sufficiently hooked to this brand, I was tempted to experience their clothes exhibition. When I received an event update, I marked the date and made plans to be there.

When I arrived at the venue, it was nothing like the online experience.

Racks of clothes, marked by size, stood haphazardly, across the hall. Piles of garments were strewn on large tables, discarded by customers who had pulled them out from the racks or tried them on.

Long lines of customers stood outside makeshift trial rooms, each with at least six garments to try on.

The full range of cuts and colours were not available or were probably lost in the piles.

There was no one to answer questions or help with the clothes.

The venue itself was dreary with tacky branding elements.

I was out in ten minutes without a purchase.

Questions

Online can never match an offline buying experience – has this premise been finally busted?

In their quest to have a successful online business, are brands neglecting their offline experience?

Have the roles reversed, in that online best practices will now be replicated offline?

Any other questions or take-aways?

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EXPERIENCES WITH ECOMMERCE

I placed two orders on Amazon in June.

The two orders were an oversight. I had to place the second order because I forgot to change the quantity from 01 to 02 in the first order.

ORDER SUMMARY

Two orders; same item. Placed by the same customer (me); on the same date.; within five minutes of each other; to be delivered to the same address. The same logistics partner was delivering the items

REALITY CHECK

The first order gets delivered after 7 days.

The second order for the same item to be delivered to the same address, being delivered by the same partner, reaches my city after 15 days and still does not get delivered.

Reason relayed via SMS: “Could not be delivered as additional address details missing.”

After a number of follow-up calls and social media feedback, the product is traced and delivered after yet another 48 hours.

NOTE TO SELF:

Get back to the friendly neighborhood supermarket who will not only stock all items under one roof, but will also deliver them free within an hour, while offering a 30-day, interest-free credit to all customers.

QUESTION:

Despite all the sophisticated inventory management and software, why is it still so difficult for marketplaces and global leaders in ecommerce to centralize orders placed by a single customer and deliver to a single address on a single delivery date?