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The Customer

It’s experience that counts

Customers judge retailers by the practice of the best, which means that customer experience is key to success

No retailer is an island. Your company’s customers aren’t just your company’s customers. They are shopping and interacting with countless other businesses, day in, day out. All these interactions are shaping their expectations  of how your company should be meeting their needs. A great customer experience can lead to long-term repeat purchases, while a poor one can cost your company the lifetime value of a customer. But customers don’t live a compartmentalised life. If they’re getting great online support from one organisation with which they do business, they expect the same from all of them. The same is true of delivery, app performance and in-store customer care. That means that when it comes to availability, consistency, convenience and cost, the pressure is on. After all, if your rivals are getting it right, customers will want to know  why your company isn’t.

Fast, effective communication

It’s unsurprising that shoppers are turning to social media to contact brands and retailers. The median brand was found to have 72,132 followers on Twitter. That’s almost three times more than the average Top500 retailer, with 25,673. If they want a speedy response, this is where to go.
Our research found that those retailers offering customer service via Facebook were the fastest. While the median response time to an email was 18 hours, getting in touch via Facebook Messenger elicited a reply in a median time of just 61 minutes. That said, email responses were found to be more helpful in many cases. Retailers selling cosmetics have the shortest median email response time (12h01), followed by retailers selling drinks (13h01) and sports and leisure clothing (14h29). Meanwhile, home and industrial appliance retailers have the shortest median Facebook response times (0h14), followed by cosmetics (0h19), consumer electronics (0h21) and children’s toys (0h22). The EEA average is 1h01, and the average for brands is 1h14.

A quick response is great but a speedy resolution is what shoppers are actually after. Retailers selling children’s toys and accessories, sports and outdoor equipment were least likely to resolve an issue with a single message, we found.

Across the EEA, the IREU Top500 research found that the median number of communications channels on offer was four. That was also true of those retailers selling stationery and craft supplies, clothing, and footwear. But those selling ready-meals offer the highest number of communications channels, with a median of five.

Website load times

Another key area where speed counts is website loading. The median time for an IREU Top500 retailer landing page to render is now 6% slower than it was in mid-2017. This  is despite our testing servers (thanks to knowledge partner Eggplant) increasing their bandwidth. We also looked at the size of web pages across the Top500. While the median desktop page size has only increased by 5%, from 2.3MB to 2.4MB, there were interesting regional variations. Landing pages localised to Luxembourg increased from 2.1MB to 3.2MB between 2017 and 2018, a 49% increase.

Other findings included:

Estonia: 1.9MB to 2.5MB (+33%)
Greece: 2.1MB to 2.8MB (+32%)
Croatia: 2.1MB to 1.8MB (-18%)

There was a substantially greater increase in page size on sites optimised for mobile, increasing by 12% across the Top500. Again we saw higher rates in some countries:

Estonia: 1.1MB to 1.7MB (+59%)
Latvia: 1.2MB to 1.9MB (+51%)
Luxembourg: 1.2MB to 1.7MB (+41%)


Product ratings can be a great way to give shoppers additional information and, hopefully, reassurance. In the Top500, they are used by 72% of retailers selling sports clothing, which compares favourably with the EEA weighted average of 53% and 39% for the whole Top500, followed by:

Home and industrial appliances: 71%
Sports and outdoor equipment: 70%
Fashion accessories: 41%
Fashion clothing: 41%
Ready-made food (lowest use): 30%

The median length of a returns policy in the Top500 is 18 days and the minimum returns window allowed, as mandated by EU law, is just 14 days.  Retailers selling children’s toys and accessories, consumer electronics, books, software, music, film & TV, and health tended to offer just 14 days for items to be returned. Whereas the most generous returns windows  are to be found among the following:

Fashion footwear and accessories: 26 days
Sports clothing: 25 days
Fashion clothing, sports footwear, and trade
tools & DIY: 24 days

The products people buy most often are also the most commoditised and widely available. Which means you have to fight harder than ever to give shoppers a reason to buy from you. It also means working harder than ever to make sure you don’t give them an excuse to walk away. Providing consistently high levels of customer experience across all shopper touchpoints is only going to become increasingly important.

Strong performers

Companies that performed well in this Dimension came from a variety of different sectors. They included C disparate companies united in having a strong customer experience focus.

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