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Shopper-friendly retailing

Designing retail from the shopper’s point of view can help boost sales. When retailers make it easy for existing and potential customers to buy from them, it’s more likely that they will do so. In The Customer Dimension, RetailX researchers explore both the customer experience and the customer service that Top500 retailers provide. They look at whether, and how, retailers deploy tools that they judge will make the experience easier. And they look at this across channels from the mobile web and mobile apps to customer service. Researchers measure performance in this area across 36 metrics covering areas from how customer service is offered and how fast service teams answer shoppers’ questions through to website speeds, one-click ordering, product ratings and returns policies.

The findings are presented below through two key questions. First, how easy do retailers make it for customers to get in touch? This is important for shoppers both before and after they buy. Before buying, they can use different channels to ask questions about a product. Before they buy, shoppers may also look to see how they will be able to get in touch if an order goes wrong.

Certainly if they have after sales questions, they will want to get in touch via a range of channels. How a query is dealt with is likely to have an effect on whether they return to buy again – and so response times matter as well as the number of communication channels. Websites – on desktop and mobile – are the primary source of information for shoppers, and so the speeds at which they operate are an important part of the
customer experience.

The second question is: how easy is it for shoppers to find, choose and buy a product? This area of enquiry looks at how retailers support customers in finding the right item – and how easy they make it to buy and return that product. All are important areas of the customer journey – getting them right can make a big difference to customers’ satisfaction with their shopping experience.

How easy is it for customers to get in touch with retailers?

Communication channels

When shoppers want to contact a Top500 retailer they can choose to do so through an average of 10 channels, from telephone and email to live chat on their website or mobile app and direct messages on social media. But once a retailer offers the channel, how easy is it for shoppers to find the information they need in order to get in touch? RetailX research found that just under a third (30%) of retailers show their contact phone number on their landing page, but only 7% show a contact email on that page, while almost all have a ‘contact us’ page with these details or a web submission form.
One in five retailers (23%) offer live chat on their website, and 11% prompt shoppers for a chat within a minute of them arriving on the landing page. Fewer – at 8% – offer live chat on their mobile app. Of the 183 retailers with apps that were assessed both in 2020 and in 2019, uptake of live chat on the app grew by one percentage point (1pp), from 7%. Live chat is most commonly found in mobile apps in the sports and outdoor equipment category: 14% of retailers in this category use it, following growth of 2pp over the year from 12% last year. That’s followed by sports and leisure clothing (11%). Use has also grown among those selling trade and DIY tools and equipment (+4pp to 9%). But live chat is less likely than last year to be found on mobile apps operated by those selling fashion accessories (-2pp to 7%), and cosmetics (-2pp to 8%). Live chat’s reduced usage in sectors where customer preference is subjective will surprise some but could reveal that retailers do not view live chat interactions as analogous to a product-oriented conversation with an in-store sales representative. Instead, retailers may view live chat as providing operations-type customer support covering delivery queries or returns, for example. Finally, three sectors used live chat to the same extent as last year: home and industrial appliances (9%), homewares (10%) and jewellery (11%).

Response times
Researchers tested customer service quality by sending a simple email enquiry (through a form on the retailer’s website, if that option was available) and making a phone call, again with a simple request for information on the retailer’s services. Emails were answered in an average of 17 hours 35 mins (up to a maximum of 72 hours – responses after this time were considered non-responses) and a median of 12h 59m. The time taken to respond was higher than last year, with the median response time up by 175 minutes – or two hours 55 minutes – on the previous year. Response times were faster than last year among those selling sports and leisure footwear (-48 minutes to 14 hours and 47 minutes) and sports and leisure clothing (-118m to 13 hours and 33 minutes). But they slowed down among those selling homewares (+410m to 13 hours and seven minutes) and trade and DIY tools and equipment (+333m to 10 hours and eight minutes).
A call to customer service took an average of 2m 32s and a median of 2m (120s) to complete. Researchers rated the service they received at a median four out of four and the degree to which the issue they raised was resolved at four. Both measures stayed the same as last year. It’s a mixed bag but, in general, retailers are responding more slowly to consumer requests for information this year than last. It’s a basic performance metric but one of the few in which the average retailer isn’t improving.

Website speed
The speed of a website is key to customer service online since those sites are one of the customer’s primary sources of information on a retailer and the products they sell and, more importantly, is a key sales channel for almost every retailer. RetailX research in collaboration with knowledge partner Eggplant found that Top500 websites were visually complete on desktop browsers in an average of 9.8s and took an average of 10.3s to download fully. The median visual completion time of 9s was the same in both years, but the median download time of 9.68s is 1s slower in 2020 than a year earlier. Download speed is related to the size of websites: desktop websites were an average of 3.1MB, and a median of 2.8MB in size in 2020. In 2020, the median size was 38,500 bytes more than in 2010. Leading retailers’ landing pages are visually complete in just over a second, although they often take a few more seconds to finish loading some aspects of the page. It’s this prioritisation of content, more than the volume of content (and size in MB) that separates the best retailers from the rest at website performance.
On mobile, websites were visually complete in an average of 8.36s, and took an average of 8.98s to download fully. The faster mobile download speed in comparison to desktop can be explained by the finding that they were lighter than desktop sites, at an average of 2.6MB and a median of 2.3MB. But mobile websites remained at similar speeds as in 2019: the median time to visual completion (8s) and to full download (8s) stayed the same.
Looking at how deeply shoppers engage with retailers, RetailX knowledge partner SimilarWeb finds that visitors accessed an average of 9.77 pages per session, spending an average of 5m 25s on the Top500’s websites. Just under a third of visits (31%) to the average Top500 website bounce; the median website sees 27% bounce.

How easy is it for shoppers to find, choose and buy a product?

Finding the right product

Finding a product is easier when shoppers have good navigation tools to hand. The simple three-line ‘hamburger’ menu is fast becoming standard on mobile websites, and in 2020, 94% of Top500 mobile sites feature this. That’s up by six percentage points (pp) from 88% in 2019. The feature was adopted most quickly by those selling stationery and craft materials (+17pp to 88%) – although this remains the sector with the lowest uptake – and by those selling children’s toys and accessories (+13pp to 92%) and home and industrial appliances (+13pp to 95%). The feature is most common among grocers (92%). RetailX head of research Martin Shaw says: “It’s emblematic of the continuing adoption by many in the Top500 of mobile-first browsing – which until recently was only a buzzword to hundreds of the UK’s largest retailers. In 2020, perhaps for the first time, we can say that the Top500 in general, rather than just the Top100, are mobile-first or, at least, mobile-optimised retailers.”
Shoppers can now see how other customers rated products on more than half (55%) of websites – up by 2pp from 53% in 2019. Product ratings are now most common among grocers (+10pp to 73%), those selling health products (+8pp to 72%), and trade and DIY tools and equipment (71%). Product ratings are least deployed by retailers selling in categories where opinions are perhaps very subjective, including jewellery (40%), fashion clothing (40%) and fashion footwear (42%). The fastest declines in the use of product ratings were among those selling home and industrial appliances (-7pp to 67%) and sports and outdoor equipment (-4pp to 77%).
When it comes to making product suggestions, 39% of retailers recommend a product that complements the one that shoppers are looking at. Just 5% enable shoppers to add an image to their product review.

Buying and returning items
One in five (20%) of retailers enable shoppers who have already registered their details to buy in just one click. Leading retailers have offered such services for years now and in 2020 more retailers than ever are matching this level of speed and convenience. A good customer experience during the return process can be the difference in a shopper trying to purchase from the same retailer again. By law, retailers must give their customers 14 days, or two weeks, to return a product they bought online. Top500 retailers give shoppers an average of 10 weeks (70 days) to return a product, but the median is much lower at 3.7 weeks (26 days). Some individual retailers offer their customers as long as a year to return a product, a figure that is likely to distort the average.

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