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Speedy and efficient customer service

Our research highlights new and effective ways of putting the consumer first

TRADERS STOOD OUT in the IRUK Top500 Strategy & Innovation Performance Dimension when they put the customer experience first, investing in services and technologies that deliver a fast and efficient shopping journey.

InternetRetailing researchers tested the performance of Top500 retailers against metrics that demonstrate business innovation and strategic planning. For 2017, these strategic measures are those that deliver around the speed and efficiency of retailers’ performance and customer service. They include 28 different metrics, which range from how fast and efficiently web pages loaded, to how quickly and effectively retailers responded to customer service questions posed by phone, email and other channels.

Researchers also tested particularly innovative strategies in areas that are covered in more depth within this report. They drew on their research in merchandising, mobile, delivery, collection, returns and customer engagement to assess the tools, technologies and services that retailers employ as they enable shoppers to use websites quickly and easily.

Social media engagement via Twitter, as measured in InternetRetailing’s Tweetailer index, also formed part of the assessment.

“It takes true strategic planning to achieve a service that really meets customers’ needs,” says InternetRetailing’s head of research, Martin Shaw.

“In this Strategy & Innovation Performance Dimension, we’ve aimed to measure how far retailers go in giving their customers the tools they need in order to buy from them. We’ve also looked at whether, and how, they use new or innovative approaches and technologies in order to boost their effectiveness. We’ve weighted the index such that the leaders in this Dimension are broadly innovative and strategic.”

How the Top500 performed

Top500 retailers offered an average of five (4.8) communication channels to their customers. When researchers contacted Top500 retailers with an email query, they received a response in a median time of 12h, while a small number of slow-to-respond retailers took the average time to just under 24h (23.5h). Researchers on average rated those responses at three out of four for effectiveness in resolving the query. When researchers submitted a customer query over Facebook, they found a faster median response time, at just under half an hour. But the average response time was much lower, at almost 53h or just over two days (2.2 days), which showed 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 suggests that some retailers are using a siloed approach to customer service.

The average Top500 retailer offered between two and three delivery options (2.5). Next-day delivery, offered by 312 of the Top500 retailers, was the most popular premium option. That was followed by Saturday delivery, offered by 167 retailers, nominated-day delivery (93 retailers), and Sunday delivery (62). Same-day delivery (29) and nominated time (40) were far less widely available, suggesting that these are not yet important or sought-after forms of delivery.

Retailers were more likely to deliver next day than to offer collection, currently a service offered by 266 of the Top500. Some 176 of the Top500 enabled shoppers to return their online purchases to the store, while refunds were processed in an average of 11.4 days.

Merchandising strategies came under scrutiny, as researchers investigated how well retailers informed shoppers about their products. They found that product pages featured an average of between two and three (2.3) images. Some 120 of the Top500 retail websites offered alternative results when a no results search was made, while 140 enabled shoppers to save the products they’d found to a wishlist.

Making it possible for shoppers to buy via mobile was a key point of interrogation for researchers, who found that 185 of the Top500 retail websites offered Android apps, while 204 had iOS apps – 22 of the 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 shown in 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 , Tesco , Boots , Currys and Next. House of Fraser performed well above its Footprint rating for a strategic approach that included an effective approach to customer service both on email and via Facebook, and a wide choice of delivery and collection options that suggested a well-considered strategy in this area. The department store offered six delivery options, plus Collect+ and click and collect, and also enabled shoppers to return their online orders to the store.

Tesco performed to consistently high standards across the Dimension, with speedy and effective responses to customer enquiries. It answered a Facebook query in 25m on average and supported six customer service and information channels – one more than the average of five. Its three delivery options for non-grocery orders included next-day delivery, nominated date and standard, while it also offered click and collect. Shoppers could nominate the day and time of delivery. It had a bug-free iOS app, while its mobile website loaded faster than most in the Top500, with a speed index result just 63% of the median.

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.

Other retailers that performed well above their size included Mothercare , which scored full marks for its customer email response and offered eight customer channels. Wex Photographic also had eight customer service channels and offered five delivery options.

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