As Christmas approaches the evidence is that more shoppers are choosing to shop online, and department stores are being hit as their sales move online faster than other categories. ONS figures have shown online sales at department stores growing faster than the average. In July, for example, department store online sales grew by 35% a year, and accounted for 18.2% of sales in the category. In October, fashion and footwear online sales – both key areas for department stores, hit record levels, the ONS found.
All that said, a new study suggests that close to half of consumers would be disappointed if their local department store closed.
Some 48% find their local department store useful and would be upset, disappointed or frustrated if it closed, the Institute of Customer Service study found. But that came with a rider, since the same proportion (48%) feel that the customer service they receive in that store has declined over the last decade.
The study questioned 2,000 customers and found most believe the best customer service is now to be found when shopping with independent brands (53%) rather than in department stores – which were backed by 21%.
So how might department stores change? One in 10 (11%) say that investment in experiences – or experiential retail – would make them more likely to shop at their high street department store, while 51% would be more likely to visit if they were met by friendly and helpful staff. The greatest draw – for 57% of customers – however, would be a more impressive product range.
“As we approach the final few Christmas shopping days, businesses should ensure they are addressing the right issues,” said Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service. “Ensuring that friendly and approachable staff as well as a range of products are displayed is vital in converting shoppers who come through the door into loyal, long-term customers.
““Our new research suggests customers will fail to be seduced by tick-box, fabricated experiential initiatives that do not feel authentic. Brands that shape a genuine customer journey that makes the department store a destination, with friendly, competent staff at its core are more likely to win loyal customers.
“Poor or diluted levels of customer service during the remainder of the Christmas trading season and busy Boxing Day sales are likely to negatively impact reputation and sales the following year.”
Meanwhile, a study from technology company Zebra questioned shoppers, retail staff and retail decision makers and found that 62% of shop floor staff believe they could provide better customer service if they were equipped with in-store technology such as tablets – and 28% say it’s difficult to get information in order to help shoppers. More than half (51%) said their company was understaffed, while 43% felt overworked.
At the same time, 66% of shoppers said having smartphones meant they were better connected to product information than the staff were.
Mark Thomson, retail industry director at Zebra Technologies, said:
“At the heart of a frictionless retail experience is an empowered workforce who can bring the omnichannel experience to life. By arming store assistants with better technology, retailers instantly enable better visibility over stock and availability, general enquiries, click and collect management and generally freeing up more time from admin tasks to give better customer service.”