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Engaging customers across Europe

Polina Modenova explains how InternetRetailing researchers approached the task of understanding how Europe’s leading retailers engage with customers

Retailers that are highly visible to shoppers when they search, and enable customers to engage with them across a variety of channels most effectively, stand out from the competition in this IREU Top500 Brand Engagement Performance Dimension Report. Merchants that are already well known often stand out in search visibility, while those that most effectively enable communication across diverse channels are recognised in other parts of the research. These are retailers that use approaches from social media and blogs to live chat in order to develop two-way relationships with shoppers. This has a beneficial effect: by raising brand awareness in this way, traders go on to benefit through improved search visibility.

Our approach

We worked with InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner OneHydra to measure search visibility, assessing how likely a retailer is to be seen by a shopper searching using terms relevant to that retailer. This research focused predominantly on UK retailers, since local laws prevent similar insights, even in aggregate, across much of the European Economic Area (EEA).

We analysed the effectiveness of direct marketing activity through our partnership with InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner Return Path. We looked at how likely shoppers were to read, delete or mark emails as spam, focusing on 25 retailers in the UK, Germany and France. These results were used to fine-tune the ranking of those retailers that we analysed, without affecting the overall position of others.

Finally, we assessed retailers’ effectiveness in communicating around the EEA with shoppers across a variety of channels by measuring their presence and activities on 11 social media networks: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Vimeo, VKontakte and YouTube. We asked whether they had a blog and whether customers could get in touch via phone, email and live chat.

What the Top500 do: brand visibility

Retailers that are well known are more likely to be seen in a Google search. That makes it hard for less visible retailers to become more widely seen. Appealing to a niche demographic – ranking for important keywords and out-competing or equalling general retailers – gives a natural advantage in this area.

Amazon dominates search visibility across much of the EEA. In the UK, for example, Amazon featured on average, in 263m search results between December 2015 and March 2016, while the UK Top500’s average is just 3.4m. But brands that put resources into engaging with customers through a blog and through social media channels can influence the conversation while boosting visibility.

The IREU Top500 were seen in an average of 7m Google searches, and on average, enjoyed a 35% likelihood of being seen in a search.

What the Top500 do: email

Analysis of customers’ responses to the direct marketing emails that retailers sent them found an average 22% read rate in the UK, France and Germany – the three largest countries for ecommerce and multichannel retailing. On average, 10% of emails were deleted without reading. UK shoppers read a quarter (25%) of emails and were the least likely to mark them as spam. Customers from France deleted 13.7% of emails without reading them – the highest proportion in the study.

What the Top500 do: social media

All retailers in the IREU Top500 had Facebook and Twitter handles. More than half (54%) supported YouTube, followed by Instagram and Google+. Traders were least likely to use LinkedIn, supported by just 6% of the Top500.

Research showed that nearly 60% of retailers only had one country-specific Facebook handle. But those that had more than one were most likely to offer local language pages for English, German and French-speaking followers.

Overall, 16% of IREU Top500 retailers offered ‘switch region’ functionality on Facebook. They included most prominently Danish, Italian and Spanish businesses.

The Facebook ‘shop now’ call-to-action was very prominent on IREU Top500 merchants’ pages: nearly 80% of retailers supported this feature. Those in the Netherlands, Croatia, Spain and Germany were most likely to flag up this feature: 85% of Dutch retailers offered this functionality.

Just over half of IREU Top500 traders offered links between their social media channels. Among them were retailers in Denmark, the UK, Greece and Spain. Sixty per cent of Danish retailers offered links to other retailer-operate social media.

Retailers with only one Facebook page were less likely to offer functionality such as links to other social networks and the ‘shop now’ call-to-action.

IREU Top500 retailers on average received just over 2m page Likes and saw an average 5,552 people taking part in active conversations. Estonian customers seemed to be more likely to Like a retailer on Facebook: retailers with Estonian Facebook handles averaged 8m Likes. But UK retailers had the largest average number of people talking on Facebook, with 7,796 people in active conversations on the platform.

Leading the way’s  Facebook pages enabled customers to switch region in order to interact with the brand in French, Dutch, German and Spanish, as well as English. Links to other social networks included Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. The fast fashion retailer also featured a ‘shop now’ call to action.

French sports retailer Decathlon encouraged shoppers to talk about the brand by providing ten social media channels. It offered 13 country-specific handles with respective languages. It invited viewers to buy through a ‘shop now’ call to action that was available on all but one country-specific Facebook page – Polish. Links to other social networks were available on five country-specific pages on the site. The highest number of Likes was seen on its Spanish Facebook page – 2.3m – followed by Italy and France. Decathlon supported nine country-specific Twitter handles, with its Spanish handle having an impressive 377,000 followers.

French electronics and hobbies retailer Fnac offered six communication channels to customers. Facebook and Twitter was available in four country-specific languages. Its French Facebook page enjoyed the highest number of Likes, followed by Portuguese and Spanish. Its most-followed Twitter handle was Spanish.

Leading Netherlands retailer was present on five social media networks and enabled shoppers to get in touch through three other customer service channels, such as phone and email. It had 584,480 Likes on Facebook and 8.6m views on Google+.

German retailer Otto has six social media networks and offers three customer services channels, including live chat. This is a rare feature in this research, appearing on just 14% of IREU Top500 websites.

Fashion, furniture and technology retailer Otto supports Austrian and Hungarian websites with dedicated Facebook pages. All feature a ‘shop now’ call-to-action and provide links to other social media sites. The most popular was the German Facebook page. YouTube was supported in Germany and Austria, with Google+ available only in Germany, with 105,082 followers and 22m views. Otto achieved a 9.3% read rate for its direct marketing email campaigns, with none marked as spam. BonPrix, part of the Otto Group, featured in the Top100 of this Dimension. Its 21 country specific websites linked to 16 unique Facebook pages and eight Twitter handles.

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