For many businesses, the end of year shopping season is the busiest and most profitable time of the year. Yet, with the growing excitement and challenges around the various sales events, this period becomes more complex for businesses to capitalise on, and more difficult to deliver great customer experiences.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Singles Day, Christmas, Boxing Day and more events occurring within days or weeks of each other means businesses are faced with sudden and significant peaks in demand, alongside high-stakes customer expectations – after all, no brand wants to be in the position of telling a customer their Christmas presents are arriving late.

Research from 2021 found more than a quarter of shoppers were already doing their Christmas shopping from October, and almost a third were doing so in November. Furthermore, more than a quarter of consumers said they were unlikely to purchase again from a retailer that delivered a late package. This year, Australia Post is warning Australians to be just as, if not more, prepared than last year. They have already announced online shoppers should start their Christmas shopping 108 days early if they want items to arrive in time, and to expect supply chain challenges and delays.

The less-forgiving and increasingly fast-paced digital customer

Online shoppers are used to fast and efficient experiences at the checkout, and these expectations are even higher due to how the pandemic normalised and increased the immediate need for ecommerce solutions for every kind of product and brand. During sales events, these expectations are even higher. Customers are more engaged and excited to take advantage of short-lived discounts, pushing them to make faster decisions and complete purchases with less calculation than usual.

However, this also means customers are less forgiving if their purchases do not go according to plan. Not only are customers less likely to re-purchase from a brand if their item arrives late or not at all, but if the user journey is complex or time-consuming, they will abandon the cart pre-purchase and go to a competitor offering an easier experience.

Consequently, businesses selling online need to ensure they are removing any potential friction from every stage of the customer experience, starting with the checkout. One of the most administrative and frustrating experiences for customers, especially those making purchases on their mobiles, is inputting personal data. Not only are customers increasingly conscious of the security and safety risks of sharing personal information with online businesses, but counting for typos and manual data entry also slows down the overall shopping experience that they would have been flying through until that point.

Securely removing friction from the customer experience

Technology solutions that focus on simplifying these processes, such as address automation and verification tools, can make a significant difference. Data input for a customer’s name, address, and other information can take a fraction of the time if the right automation technology is working behind the scenes.

Most consumers will already be familiar with the experience of inserting a single line of data for their address, which will automate the following five or six lines. What many consumers will not see behind the scenes is whether that same technology is used to reduce the risk of human error, increase the likelihood of the parcel arriving on time by providing automated barcoding for Australia Post, and keeping the customer data safe and secure by integrating with fraud and identity theft solutions. Despite customers not necessarily being aware of the work these tools are doing out of sight, they will almost certainly disengage or be less likely to purchase from the same business if any of these factors are overlooked.

For example, if the input of the wrong address leads to a parcel going missing, or mismanagement of customer information leads to financial fraud, customers will take their business elsewhere while being highly likely to share their negative experiences online.

Amid the growing pressure on online businesses this sales season and the increasingly complex expectations from customers, whether they recognise the intensity of their expectations or not, brands and business leaders need to be proactive and prepared to deliver fast, frictionless, and secure customer experiences.

Automation technology is one of the most readily available tools that can deliver tangible and immediate impacts on streamlining the user experience. Retailers that take advantage of these capabilities ahead of the sales season will be best positioned to win and keep customers throughout what will be a chaotic period for some and a highly profitable period for others.

Carol Chris is regional general manager for Australia and New Zealand at GBG.