Michiel Gaasterland
Michiel Gaasterland
Chief Brand Officer
Oct 9, 2013

The Customer Service Defense Line: 7 Essential Tips To Prevent Complaints From Online Shoppers

Defense lineEvery web store owner knows that delivering great customer service creates happy customers who buy more. Also, happy customers create more customers through word of mouth. But unhappy customers can undo all your good work...

So, before you start wowing customers just yet, you need to first take care of your defense line. A defense line is of vital importance in football, military, water management and also... in customer service.

Dutch water defense line Oosterscheldekering
What are the most essential things you can do today to prevent confusion, disappointment and complaints with online shoppers?

According to this report from The European Consumer Centres’ Network, more than 80% of the complaints in e-Commerce are related to:

a) Delivery
b) The product or service itself
c) Payment and T&C.

This data tells you that the optimization of fullfillment processes, assortment and payment systems is of great importance to reduce complaints from customers. In an increasingly transparent online world, preventing complaints from customers should be a major priority for web stores. The benefits of reducing complaints in e-commerce are obvious: you save time and valuable resources, you keep customers happy so that they return and you prevent bad online PR! Bargain!

The good news is that you can do something about this by applying standard e-commerce best practices. But although these best practices don’t seem like rocket science, many web stores still fall short on them. Hence the complaints!

So, Take a look at these tips and check them against your own web store. How is your web store performing on each of the 7 points below?

7 Essential tips to prevent confusion, disappointment and complaints from online shoppers:

1. Stock indication: clearly communicate stock levels per item

Buying a new pair of jeans or sneakers generally makes people happy. Finding out the item is not in stock after it’s been purchased, is therefor a major bummer for online shoppers. You can prevent this by clearly indicating if the item is in stock. Strangely enough, most e-commerce platforms don’t have stock indicators as a standard feature in their basic themes.

ROBIN currently integrates with three e-commerce platforms: Shopify, Magento and our Dutch partner SEOshop. Let’s see how what they offer when it comes to stock indicators:

Shopify does not have a stock indicator as a standard feature. However, Shopify has a great app store with loads of inventory and stock apps. With their extensive community of experts you can pretty much build anything. But if you want something out of the box, the choice is limited. The number one app for stock indication is Stock Chart. It uses different colors to indicate stock levels.

SEOshop has a stock indicator in their basic theme. But things get harder when you want to indicate stock levels for product variations like sizes and colors. A good app would be welcome here! Alternatively, you can have your developer built-in a stock indicator.

Magento has some good extensions for product indication in their app store ‘Magento Connect’: Product Label 2.0 shows exact quantities. The stock indicator with the highest popularity score is Stock_Indicator. This extension shows stock levels and also works for product variations.

2. Delivery time: clearly communicate the delivery time per item

In most e-commerce platforms you can set delivery times for specific products.  Indicating delivery times is of course depended on the carrier you are using to ship the product.

Indicating exact delivery times, can be a challenge in large countries such as the USA. Both Shopify and Magento have great app tob etter manager delivery times for customers. Local Delivery is a Shopify app that adds a delivery time and date request to the cart page. Delivery date & Notice does the same for Magento.

3. Product specifications: be extensive in naming all the specifications of the product

When you sell sleeves for a mobile phone, you can slip the product specifications into the product description area. But when you sell e.g. an electronics product, you want to b e much more specific. After all, you don’t know which customer is after which spec. So, name them all!

Most e-commerce platforms don’t have extensive functionality to display product specs.  If you’re on Shopify, here’s some good advice on how to add custom product specs to your Shopify store.

In their basic theme, our Dutch partner SEOshop allows merchants to create specs and connect them to an item. Here’s an example.

4. Visualize the product: show clear, preferably large, product images or videos

With most e-commerce platforms, the basic templates have small thumbs, with a zoom function at best. For customers it can still be difficult to envision how the product will feel and look in the flesh. Showing large product images prevents disappointment with online shoppers. Check out how these amazing web stores found different ways of showcasing their product:

Pop Chart Lab (Shopify)
ETQ Shoes (SEOshop)
Men at Work Fashion (Magento)

Here’s another great example from a (Magento) store that shows products from different angles: Warby Parker. Really well done!

5. Be crystal clear about T&C, pricing, return policy, right of withdrawal and shipping costs

Take a good look at your terms and conditions. Is this really what you want to say to your customers? One of the leading online electronics stores in The Netherlands, Coolblue, completely rewrote their T&C. My personal favorite is article 3.3 ‘We are not so difficult’. This really spells out Trust with capital T!

But there’s much more you can do in the transparency department. For instance, take a look at this article on the Shopify wiki about Carrier-calculated Shipping. It calculates shipping costs in real-time for your customers. Pretty neat.

6. Don’t hide your contact details! Show customers that they can reach you!

Many web stores still hide their contact details in the footer of their web site. It’s immediately gives away your headset towards customers service. It tells customers you don’t really want them to contact you. That’s when customers start taking their complaints somewhere else. That’s the last thing you want. Research shows that, when you resolve a complaint in the customer’s favor, they will do business with you 70% of the time.

Our recommended motto is: ‘Unhappy? Tell us! Happy? Tell others!’.

7. Listen to your customers: make sure you do something with the feedback of customers and work their tips directly into your store.

Every time a customer contacts you with a complaint, do something with it! For every customer who makes the effort to complain, more than 25 customers stay silent. So, embrace the tip of the iceberg and learn from your customers. It will help to reduce the number of complaints!


How do you feel about your web store's defense line? Good? You better get on with wowing your customers! But if you think there are holes in your defense line, I strongly recommend you fix them!

What else can you do to improve your web store’s defense line? Tips are welcome!

Business, Best practices, Contact details, Delivery time, Feedback, Product description, Product photos, Product specifications, Product videos, Stock indication, Customer complaints


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