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Inside the shopper experience

Inside the shopper experience

Inside the shopper experience

Martin Shaw, head of research at InternetRetailing, explores some of the research behind The Customer Dimension Report

Shoppers have a best-in-class customer experience when they visit IRUK Top500 websites that score highly in The Customer Performance Dimension Report. InternetRetailing researchers set out to measure the customer experience that shoppers have when they visit IRUK Top500 websites and buy from the retailers that operate them. Our ranking rewarded Top500 websites that deliver a fast-loading website while offering market-leading customer service across channels. Customers using these sites can find the product using effective navigation and search strategies, and once found can read ratings and reviews on the website or via the mobile app. We also looked beyond the sale, to assess how easy it is for a customer to return an item once bought, and how long it takes for the refund to be processed.

Research carried out with InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner Ghostery looked at tag loads. Websites load faster if they have fewer tag requests, as measured through total tag loads and unique tag loads, while total page loads give an insight into how long visitors are staying on the site. We looked not only at how the Top500 performed in this Dimension, but also contrasted that with the performance of the Top100 retailers. We wanted to understand how large a gap there was between the Top500 largest retailers as a group and the top fifth in terms of overall retail size and performance. This might also help to suggest strategic ways for retailers to improve their service in order to compete with those that are leading the way.

Interestingly, we found that Top100 retailers did not always outperform the Top500, suggesting the top retailers, while generally better, do not outperform in every area, even as a group. Sometimes they outperformed only slightly – leaving room for Top500 retailers to up their own game and overtake competitors.

Cross-channel customer service

InternetRetailing research found the Top500 UK retailers offered customer support or information through a median eight channels. The Top100 went just one better, offering a median nine channels. Top500 retailers responded to a customer email in a median time of 15 hours and 40 minutes and to a Facebook message in 38 minutes. Top100 traders responded to an email in a median time of 15 hours and 50 minutes, and to a Facebook message in a median time of 46 minutes.

Overall, Top100 retailers had a greater presence on different social media channels than Top500 retailers. But while there was broad uptake across channels such as Facebook and Twitter, the biggest difference was found on Instagram, suggesting an Instagram presence is a more strategic addition than a Facebook or even a Snapchat presence. Top500 retailers had a median of 21,640 followers on Twitter, while the median Top100 retailer had 28,249 – but the average Top100 retailers had 138,067, suggesting that those at the top of the index outperformed significantly.

Product information

More than half (54%) of the Top500 offered product ratings while 61% offered product reviews. But 70% of the Top100 had product ratings and 68% product reviews. Mobile was an important focus for the analysis, which found that more than a quarter (26%) of Top500 apps offered written product reviews. Some 44% of Top100 retailers offered written product reviews in their mobile apps, suggesting an area where retailers can easily set themselves apart.

Website speed

Turning to website performance, Top500 mobile websites started to launch in a median time of 0.10s and were visually complete in 7.2s. Do the top websites perform significantly faster? We found Top100 mobile websites started to launch in 0.9s and were visually complete in 6.9s, suggesting that just a few tenths of a second can make a significant difference to performance. The median Top500 desktop website started to load in 0.08s, and was visually complete in 8.1s. Top100 websites launched at the same speed (0.08s) but were visually complete significantly more quickly, at 7.66s.

Website speed is affected by the tags, such as cookies, placed on the website. Research in partnership with Ghostery found Top100 retailers had more tags than those in the Top500, with a median of 89 unique tags, compared to 82 for the Top500. Tags tend to add functionality to a website but they will also usually detract, to some degree, from page load time. (For more on website speeds across categories, see the graphic above.)

Some 44% of Top100 retailers offered written product reviews in their mobile apps, suggesting an area where retailers can set themselves apart


One key group of metrics that we considered when measuring customer experience was returns. In total, 49% of the 496 retailers for whom the metric was relevant promised to refund items in full, while 21% also refunded the cost of returning the item. Top500 retailers gave customers a median of 27 days to return unwanted items and took a median time of 10 days to process the refund. Among Top100 retailers, 54% promised to refund an item in full, 31% refunded the cost of returning an item, and shoppers had a median 28 days to return an item. Processing refunds took an average of ten days among the Top100, just as among the Top500. Higher performers in the overall Top500 index differed in this area by not only being more likely to refund returns, but also by being significantly more likely to compensate shoppers for the cost of the return.

The leading retailers

The leading retailers in The Customer Performance Dimension are those that performed well across metrics rather than standing out in a single area. They included kitchen supplies retailer Nisbets , which promised to collect returns for free as well as refund the item itself, and showed both product ratings and reviews on its website. Boots stood out for its customer service when answering queries, for product ratings and reviews on its site, and for the the incorporation of reviews into its mobile app as well. Marks & Spencer shared product reviews and ratings on its website and had a generous returns policy, refunding both the cost of the return and the item being returned.

JoJo Maman Bébé responded to customer enquiries quickly, offered product ratings and reviews, while researchers found its website easy to navigate. WHSmith offered product ratings on its website, and supported a wide number of customer engagement channels. It was rated highly for issue resolution and its website’s internal search received a high rating for relevant results.

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