Think about this: You have spent innumerable hours setting up an Instagram-worthy online store with eye-catching photos, your logo is perfect, and the products are amazing. But it’s the moment of truth and your customer has abandoned the checkout. Did you make sure everything has been covered so that your customer doesn’t get frustrated? Often it’s the finer details that could dilute your brand experience.

For any online business, driving conversions and building a loyal customer base are essential ingredients for long-term sustainable growth. A smooth checkout is an important part of this, but it has not typically been regarded as part of the brand identity. That’s now changing, with payments no longer seen as the ‘last stage’ of the customer transaction, but the beginning of a post-purchase customer experience and the perfect opportunity to cultivate a stronger brand relationship.

Payments and brand trust go hand in hand

Increasingly, shoppers expect payments on their own terms. This was a key finding of our recent survey of 2,000 Singaporean shoppers and 300 e-commerce leaders to discover their key pain points – from both sides of the checkout.

The rapid growth of digital payment methods means today’s shopper is more discerning about how they pay. Shoppers are spoiled for choice and will move on if they cannot pick a convenient or trusted payment method at the checkout. 76 percent of Singaporean shoppers reported that they will abandon their cart if their preferred payment method is not offered. 41 percent will also walk away if the payment process is too complicated.

That payment experience isn’t only about reducing abandoned shopping carts, it can impact future use of a brand or product. For example, more than half of survey respondents regarded payment security as a factor that would help them decide if they would like to visit an online store again. Payments have evolved from a last-mile transaction feature to an important element that can alter the consumer’s view of the brand.

Merchants are also becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the payment process, with 99 percent of retailers surveyed reporting to have made some type of improvement within the past 12 months. Retailers who are taking action to improve their payment services are already beginning to see the benefit. 41 percent of those who are bolstering their systems reveal that taking foreign payments has seen an increase in revenue, and more than a third, 37 percent, are reporting higher sales levels through widening the choice of payment options. These improvements to the bottom line are significant.

But while expansion of payment methods is certainly a wise move within the fragmented ASEAN payments landscape, retailers must also address existing friction at the checkout – such as payment failures – to ensure they can convert leads into sales and build brand stickiness for the long term.

Brand stickiness is becoming harder to obtain with more and more online shoppers made up of digital natives who are skillful at finding alternative places to shop.

The importance of a great online customer experience was reiterated in a recent report from McKinsey, which found that Gen-Zs in particular cannot be tied down to a brand and are always open to switching. Similarly, according to Edelman’s recent trust barometer, for this new generation, the purchase is often the starting point for the brand relationship and not the final step. They’re driven first by the product, with 78 percent of Gen Z’s reporting uncovering and discovering things about a brand after they make a product purchase. In this sense, these days, the customer journey is less of a funnel and more of a loop, with positive experiences during and post-purchase just as important to having a satisfactory experience.

The customer journey extends beyond the checkout

When asked to list their top pain points in the online shopping experience, consumers were crystal clear on where retailers are ‘not delivering’, with five of the top seven complaints relating to delivery, fulfillment, or returns. High cost of delivery was noted as the top pain point with 61 percent of consumers, who also cited it as one of the top reasons they will abandon their cart right before making payment.

In the same thread of pain points, delivery delays, lost packages, and unfavorable returns policies are also followed up as consumer concerns. It’s clear that logistical issues are closely related to customer satisfaction and the overall perception of a brand. Similarly, the seamlessness of payments extends beyond the sale, as chargebacks, refund requests, rewards, and cashbacks are all part and parcel of the payment, delivery, and fulfillment experience.

To remove some of the friction felt by consumers, merchants should look at the consumer journey holistically – beyond the point of sale.

Besides engaging reliable logistics partners to ensure the fulfillment of parcels, high costs can be worked into payment plans through annual fees or subscription fees for shoppers to ease the pressure of one-off high costs and reduce the risk of cart abandonment.

Chargebacks and refunds due to failed deliveries create administrative work for businesses and stress for consumers. Thinking of checkouts not as the final stage of the transaction but rather as the start of the journey toward parcel fulfillment and long-term retention will help businesses prioritize these essential elements of a good customer experience.

Retailers are upping their game, with Shoppee recently promising returns to be processed within two and a half days from an expanded network of 112 drop-off points. Big players are setting the expectations so it’s clear that improving service levels is going to be key going forward.

Overall, as the e-commerce market matures, these expectations will only continue to grow. Consumers have more choices when shopping online and hence are more empowered to step away when their needs are not met.

But a smooth end-to-end customer journey is not only within reach of the super apps with huge teams at their disposal. Retailers of any size should consider establishing strong partnerships with payment providers or platforms that can support them to establish and automate a seamless end-to-end customer experience.

Kailash Madan is Head of Sales, APAC at Primer.

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Future-proofing your business? Begin with payments