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Putting the customer first

Martin Shaw, head of research at InternetRetailing, offers his expert guide to the research that underpins this Dimension Report.

Good customer experiences characterise the leading retailers in the 2017 IRUK Top500 Strategy & Innovation Performance Dimension. This year, we’ve put the emphasis firmly on assessing which retailers stand out for their customer-first thinking, and their use of services and technologies that enable shoppers to move quickly and efficiently through the website to the checkout. The InternetRetailing research team used metrics that demonstrate business innovation and strategic planning to measure the performance of Top500 retailers. For 2017, we focused in particular on the speed and efficiency of retailers’ customer service.

We used 28 different metrics to analyse, for example, how fast retailers’ home pages loaded; and how quickly and effectively traders responded to customer service questions across different channels, including phone and email. Informed by a philosophy that it takes true strategic planning to achieve a service that really meets customers’ needs, we drew on research in merchandising, mobile and cross-channel, delivery, collection, returns and customer engagement to assess the technologies and services that retailers deploy as they enable shoppers to use websites quickly and easily. Social media engagement and responsiveness also formed part of our assessment. How the Top500 performed We found that Top500 retailers offered an average of five communication channels to their customers.

When we contacted Top500 retailers with an email query, we had responses in a median time of just under 16h, while a small number of slow-to-respond retailers took the average time to a little more than a day (27.8h). Customer queries submitted over Facebook were on the whole answered faster, in a median response time of a little more than half an hour (38.2m). But the average response time was much lower, at almost 61.8h – or two-and-a-half days – which suggested that while a majority of retailers responded via the social network faster than the ‘traditional’ mode of email, a minority were much slower on Facebook than they are via email. This also indicates that some retailers are using a siloed approach to customer service.

The average Top500 retailer offered between two and three delivery options (2.6). Next-day delivery, offered by 52% of retailers, was the most popular premium option. That was followed by Saturday delivery, offered by 29% of retailers, nominated-day delivery (15%), and Sunday delivery (10%). Same-day delivery (5%) and nominated-time delivery (7%) were less widely available, suggesting either that there’s less customer demand for these delivery options, or that these metrics, also analysed for last year’s Strategy & Innovation Dimension, still separate the best from the rest. More than half of retailers (57%) offer collection. That figure has risen quickly from the 52% that enabled shoppers to pick up their online orders when we last researched this area at the beginning of this year. Some 37% of the Top500 enabled shoppers to return their online purchases to the store, while refunds were processed in a median of 10 days. Merchandising strategies came under scrutiny, as we investigated how thoroughly retailers informed shoppers about their products.

“More than half of retailers (57%) offer collection. That figure has risen quickly from the 52% that enabled shoppers to pick up their online orders earlier this year”

We found that product pages featured an average of between there and four (3.6) images. Some 27% of the Top500 retail websites offered alternative results when a no results search was made, while 47% enabled shoppers to save the products they’d found to a wishlist. When we looked at how important mobile was to strategies, we found that 37% of the Top500 retailers offered Android apps, while 41% had iOS apps – but 29% of the 205 iOS apps had a serious bug. How the leading retailers perform Individual retailers stand out in this Performance Dimension not only for the overall heft of their service offerings, but also when they punch well above their weight, as determined by the Top500 Footprint.

The Top500 Footprint measures retailers by relatively blunt measures, such as turnover and store estate. Additional performance-related measures, such as in this Strategy & Innovation Dimension, are then used to calibrate that overall figure. The retailers that stood out in this Dimension included House of Fraser , Boots , Marks & Spencer , Screwfix and Holland & Barrett . House of Fraser performed well above its Footprint rating for a strategic approach that included rapid and helpful customer service both on email and via Facebook, and a wide choice of delivery and collection options that few others can rival. The department store offered five delivery options, plus Collect+ and click and collect, and also enabled shoppers to return their online orders to the store. Boots answered customer service emails in an average time of an hour and a half, and Facebook messages in just over four hours. It scored top marks for the way it dealt with both. Overall, it offered seven customer service and information channels. It offered four delivery options, as well as click and collect.

Marks & Spencer stood out for customer service that included the ability to return online orders to the store as well as the relatively unusual service of offering delivery on a nominated day. Screwfix’s delivery promise won it recognition in the index: features included delivery both on Sundays and at a nominated time. Holland & Barrett scored well on mobile: it had a comprehensive range of apps, serving both those with Android and iOS devices. How different sectors perform on delivery Researchers analysed the delivery promises that traders in different sectors made.

Next-day delivery seemed most significant for retailers selling business goods, with 75% of traders in this category offering the fast service. That was followed by 66% of health and cosmetics retailers, and 59% of those selling sports and leisure goods. A little more than half (55%) of general fashion traders offered the service, while it was least easy to find among those selling children’s goods, and those selling home, garden and DIY items (both 42%). Grocers were most likely to enable shoppers to name both the day (44% of retailers in this category offered nominated day delivery) and the time (27%). They were followed by food and wine retailers (34% offering nominated day and 20% nominated time) and department stores (28% nominated day/15% nominated time).

“Next-day delivery seemed most significant for retailers selling business goods, with 75% of traders in this category offering the fast service”

Food and wine traders (46%) were most likely to offer Saturday delivery. Grocers were most likely to offer Sunday delivery (19%). Stationers were the least likely to offer Saturday (15%), while the 5% of retailers in this category that delivered on a Sunday was only eclipsed by business goods retailers, where no Sunday delivery was available. The widest choice of delivery options came from health and cosmetics traders, with an average of three (2.9) choices, while the least choice was from food and wine retailers with an average of 2.2.

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