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Putting the customer experience first

Putting the customer experience first

Putting the customer experience first

Polina Modenova explains how researchers went about understanding the service that IRUK Top500 retailers offer their customers on their websites and across their sales channels

The merchants that stand head and shoulders above the rest in The Customer Performance Dimension Report are those that focus unerringly on the service they offer to customers. They are retailers that prioritise customer service across sales channels. They think long and hard about the customer journey, ensuring that websites load quickly in order to ensure an efficient service. They evolve services continuously to meet their customers’ ever-changing demands.

In this Report, we’ve measured the factors that we believe contribute to a market-leading customer experience. That list starts with website performance. The online customer journey can only begin once websites load quickly and efficiently, so leading retailers in this Dimension put time and effort into making sure sites perform to their full potential. We’ve also considered the service that traders offer shoppers across channels. While shoppers still want to call and email, social media has also become a key part of the customer service mix that UK shoppers in particular have taken to enthusiastically. Across our research in this Dimension, we’ve differentiated between multichannel and pureplay retailers to see whether pureplays, which can only compete online, put more emphasis on website performance or act to communicate more

quickly with customers via social media than their multichannel rivals, which must also manage a network of stores.

“On Facebook, traders that responded to customer queries in less than an hour also published at least one Facebook post a day”

Polina Modenova, InternetRetailing

Websites that perform

In this section, we analysed how efficiently and quickly IRUK Top500 retailers’ website pages loaded. We measured this through the PageSpeed score, which analyses how quickly and efficiently a web page loads, and also through Yahoo! Yslow scores. We grouped retailers into pureplay and multichannel retailers in the PageSpeed test in order to test our assumption that pureplay websites would perform better, which they did.

Pureplay retailers achieved an average 86 out of a potential 100, while multichannel retailers achieved 83 out of 100. We think that perhaps pureplays took this 3% lead because they are more likely to optimise their websites so that customers can navigate easily.

Leading retailers in this Dimension scored still higher. Retailers classified as Elite or Leading in the IRUK Top500 scored 87 out of 100, while leading retailer Sainsbury’s took top prize by achieving 99 out of 100 for PageSpeed.

Serving customers

We set out to measure retailers’ customer service – how well they engaged with shoppers – by assessing the speed and effectiveness with which they answered researchers’ email, Facebook and phone queries.

Across the IRUK Top500, this threw up some interesting findings. Telephone calls lasted an average of 2m 6s across the Top500, although 8% of calls went unanswered. On Facebook, we found that those traders which responded to customer queries in less than an hour also published at least one post on Facebook every day. We found no difference between the frequency with which multichannel and pureplay retailers posted, with both adding roughly 35 each month.

However, multichannel retailers substantially outperformed in the speed with which they responded to customer service queries on Facebook. The average answer time came in at less than 9h – nearly six times quicker than the average response time for the IRUK Top500.

Retailers were much faster to answer customer emails, with IRUK Top500 merchants replying in an average of 27h. Pureplay retailers were fastest, outperforming that average by 37%, while multichannel retailers were 10% slower.

The fastest responses to customer emails came from traders operating in the apparel and consumer electronics categories, in less than 10m. More than 30% of retailers in the consumer electronics and general merchandise categories responded in less than an hour. Across the index, half of pureplay retailers responded to customer emails within 12h.

Leading retailers performed well ahead of these averages, however. For example, we found that four of the Top5 retailers responded faster on Facebook than by email. At John Lewis , customer services staff answered emails in just over 2h and delivered an equally outstanding service over the phone, asking customers additional questions and giving straightforward answers.

Staff at The Perfume Shop replied to a Facebook query in 1h 24m and to a phone query in under a minute. That’s 2.21 times faster than the average IRUK Top500 response time. The Perfume Shop was also the most active retailer on Twitter, putting out nearly 25,000 tweets every month.

TK Maxx [IRDX RTKM] responded to email and Facebook queries in less than an hour and resolved a phone enquiry in 1m 13s. WHSmith dealt with a phone enquiry in 1m 48s – less than the average time recorded for IRUK Top500 retailers – and dealt with a Facebook query in 1h 6m.

French Connection performed well on Twitter, where it had 6,400 Liked tweets – the highest achieved in the index. Customer queries were addressed in less than an hour and a phone enquiry in less than a minute.

Tweetailer index

We also factored into our findings how many followers each retailer had on Twitter. We believe this measure demonstrates retailers’ ability to interact with consumers, as well as how far they enable them to communicate any issues via social media. Again, we split our research into multichannel and pureplay retailers.

“Multichannel retailers had 150% more Twitter followers than pureplay traders and 120% more Facebook Likes”

Polina Modenova, InternetRetailing

We found that multichannel retailers achieved higher customer engagement via both Facebook and Twitter. As a group, they had nearly nine times more Twitter followers than the average number of followers for Top500 retailers – which stood at a little under 17,000. Multichannel retailers had 150% more Twitter followers than pureplay traders and 120% more Facebook Likes than their pureplay competitors. John Lewis had the largest Twitter following – 309,000 followers at the time of the research. That’s more than 18 times higher than the 17,000 averaged by IRUK Top500 retailers.


As a group, IRUK Top500 retailers continue to respond slowly to customer enquiries compared to the leading retailers in this Dimension, whose swift handling of comments and complaints puts the others to shame. Because of this disparity, many of the Top500 retailers clearly have plenty of scope to improve their customer service and when they do, this will in turn lift averages across the sector.

Across the board, average response times via email and social media were also too long. According to Forrester findings, 41% of customers expect a reply to their emails within 6h. Since we expect response times in this Dimension to improve considerably in years to come, we will continue to monitor them through regular updates on our research.

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