The digital transformation of ecommerce over the past few years has had a lasting impact on the expectations shoppers bring to online experiences. Unfortunately, Covid has also had a lasting impact on industries, especially in the form of supply chain issues. The struggle to meet these expectations is creating major pitfalls for brands and retailers trying to stay connected with their online customers.

We surveyed online shoppers in the U.S. and U.K. in the context of three different industries–grocery, apparel, and consumer electronics–to understand how they feel about the ongoing supply challenges. In the process, we learned a lot about how out-of-stock notifications have impacted their shopping behavior, and what they do when preferred items are unavailable. Though each industry has its own unique challenges, we were surprised by the commonalities that connected all three.

Here’s an overview:

Groceries shoppers stay engaged for recommended items

Shopping for food has become a complicated process in the past few years, and many shoppers have turned to purchasing groceries online as a result. Ongoing supply chain issues have made it difficult for grocers to guarantee a customer’s favorite brand of oat milk or pasta sauce will be available. Even so, our survey found that nearly a third of online grocery shoppers are willing to compromise when they are given viable recommendations for alternative products.

That said, there are some items that grocery shoppers will simply not budge on. These are often related to things like brand loyalty, food sensitivities, or quality standards. Roughly 90% of shoppers shared at least one grocery item that they would never buy a substitute for based on ingredients, preparation and brand. Nutella, Heinz beans, organic produce, and Shreddies were just a few of the products shoppers aren’t interested in finding an alternative for.

Apparel shoppers welcome substitutions (sometimes)

Fashion and style are tricky because they are very personal. Compromising on your preferred brand of jeans isn’t the same as opting for your second-favorite cereal. This was reflected in our survey of online apparel shoppers, wherein 60% of survey takers said they did not opt for an alternative product because it didn’t fit their taste.

Apparel brands still have a chance to hook in open-minded shoppers. A sizable 31% of shoppers said they will entertain substitutions. While most apparel sites seem to recommend alternatives when an item is out of stock, our survey found that 15% of shoppers still receive no recommendations when their item is sold out. In other words, yes, shoppers are picky when it comes to style, however there is still a chance they will consider an alternative. The only way to know is by making sure they actually see alternatives with recommendations.

Consumer electronics brands only get a handful of chances with shoppers

Of all three industries that we observed, consumer electronics seemed to have the most stacked up challenges. Our survey of online shopping gadget lovers revealed that they tend to only make consumer electronics purchases online three to four times a year. When the item they want isn’t in stock, 62% will outright leave the digital storefront and go elsewhere. This is compounded by an international chip shortage, making every touchpoint with consumer electronics customers critical.

There is, however, plenty of opportunity for brands to keep customers engaged. Our survey found that though they only make a few purchasing decisions a year, there is a ton of research that goes into those purchases. Consumer electronics brands can use this to their advantage by making their website the destination for shoppers to get all of the information they need about a potential purchase. Making this content easy to find is crucial, as well as having a robust search system that can take customers to the product they decide on the instant a purchase decision is made.

The common threads

Though each industry has its own unique challenges and customer demands, there were a few themes that cropped up throughout all of them. All of this comes down to three key elements that can support any ecommerce industry that is feeling the supply chain lurch:

  1. Making relevant recommendations when stock is low has a positive impact on a customer’s chance of making a purchase as well as retaining their loyalty.
  2. Customers appreciate receiving alerts and notifications about restocks of their favorite or preferred products.
  3. Semantic search technology can help prevent customers from hitting the dreaded “zero results” search, ensuring there is always something relevant for them to consider.

At Lucidworks, we specialize in AI-driven search technology that connects customers with what they are looking for, and personalizes results so that they feel relevant (and never hit a zero-results dead-end). Interested in what we can do for you? Get in touch with us today.

About Dev Bhat

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