Christmas has always been a critical time of year for retailers, but the seismic shift to online shopping this year- with the help of mobile and tablet uptake - means retailers must have a laser focus on satisfying their customers via these channels this year.
UK online retailers are clearly providing customers with positive experiences in general, or customers would not be moving so decisively to online shopping. However, findings from our research last Christmas (across the Top 40 UK Online Retailers) suggested that efforts to improve the customer experience have been sluggish and as such, satisfaction is increasing at a slower pace than perhaps it should be. This, however presents retailers and brands with an enormous opportunity this year to differentiate themselves by improving the customer experience online. Remember - shopper expectations are set based on their best experiences, so retailers who are lagging will not be able to compete without working harder to satisfy their customers.
Customer satisfaction is important because in the UK, highly satisfied customers say they are 61 per cent more committed to the brand overall, 62 per cent more likely to purchase from the retailer online, 48 per cent more likely to purchase from the retailer offline, 67 per cent more likely to recommend the retailer, 58 per cent more likely to purchase from the retailer next time, and 52 per cent more likely to return to the site, based on likelihood scores (note: these metrics are not theoretical – they are scientific calculations of likely future behaviours of actual shoppers who visited the top 40 online retailers in the UK during the 2012 Christmas season). In short, there’s a powerful and quantifiable relationship between a positive customer experience online and increased loyalty, sales, and recommendations.
So what can this year’s retailers do to improve the online customer experience? Well, there’s no standardised cookie-cutter approach to e-commerce, but by understanding the impact of specific aspects of their own website on overall satisfaction, online retailers can save costly investments in upgrades that have little influence on satisfaction and behaviour and can instead focus their efforts on the changes that matter to consumers (imagine if all the companies above rallied around efforts to lower prices, because surveys show that customers are unsatisfied in that area. They would be focused on the wrong thing). They should however ensure customers are satisfied with the overall experience – whether it’s via a tablet, mobile or web browser and measure satisfaction from each channel. Website functionality is also very important to prioritise - in terms of the usefulness, convenience, and variety of online features available to site visitors, so satisfaction across this area should be checked, measured and then altered accordingly. Retailers and brands should also talk to online customers to make sure they’re happy with merchandise in terms of appeal, variety, and availability. Finally – content. Look at perceptions of accuracy, quality, and freshness of information on the website.
Christmas 2013 strategies will also be different from last year’s since there will be more focus on integrating the mobile channel with the store experience. We expect mobile marketing to continue to grow, but it will only appeal to certain customers. There is lot of buzz to mobile marketing, but it’s more for the discount shopper – coupons as you’re walking out of the store, pricing strategies designed to fight off showrooming. The key for retailers will be to stick to the strategy of the company – don’t become a discounter if customer’s brand expectations are different.
Also worth watching out for is the multichannel retailers who will be getting aggressive to combat showrooming this holiday season. They’ll change their pricing strategies, but what they should focus on is delivering a better in-store customer experience. They should look at showrooming as an opportunity to have other people drive consumers into their stores.
My final comment is that retailers need to remember that today’s consumers have many options and alternatives to choose from. To win the sale and the customers’ loyalty, you must deliver a great experience consistently, across all channels.