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RXUK TOP500: The customer in focus

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The RetailX Top500 report uses category-specific analysis to rank the best performing retailers in the UK. The seven performance dimensions include: Footprint, Strategy & Innovation, The Customer, Operations & Logistics, Merchandising, Brand Engagement and Mobile & Cross-Channel. 

Digital Editor, Scarlette Isaac, takes a look at the Customer Dimension to see how the UK Top500 have reacted to demands created by the global pandemic. 

Can customers easily contact retailers? 

Our researchers found significant falls in the availability of options such as live chat and contact numbers on retailers’ landing pages. In some cases these points of contact were not completely absent from the website but also not immediately visible to consumers. 

It doesn’t help that 2020 saw a surge in demand, which left some sellers unable to respond to emails, phone calls or resolve complaints. In fact, one in five customers (22%) were left with their queries answered by retailers between March to July of 2020 according to a survey by Which?

Phone numbers on landing pages

One of the biggest drops identified by the research was the availability of contact phone numbers on retailer landing pages within the Top500. This figure more than halved, down from 31% to only 12% of the 438 retailers measured on this metric over two consecutive years. As the lockdowns started, retailers would have been inundated with customer queries – from which stores were still open to stock and delivery questions. They also had to deal with a rise in shoppers who had never previously shopped online, including many older consumers forced to do so by circumstance rather than choice. A 2020 survey by global commerce agency 5874 Commerce found that 63% of consumers believed the increased focus on online shopping was alienating older users or those less comfortable with technology. Couple that with many retailers setting up customer service operations to work from home, at the start of lockdown at least, and it’s unsurprising that retailers looked to funnel customer queries to easy-to-manage channels such as email. Homewares retailer IKEA was among those retailers that suspended customer service phone lines at the start of lockdown due to limited customer services team availability. Many retailers have since invested in new ways to increase call capacity and help customers with problems, such as linking customers to shop staff during periods of store closures.

Live chat options

Similarly, the availability of live chat within a minute of arriving on the landing page also more than halved, down by 7pp to 4% of the 438 retailers measured in both periods. Only 1% of automotive goods and children’s toys and accessories retailers offered the service. Although these two metrics fell, the number of retailers offering contact email details on the landing page went up slightly, by 1pp, to 8% of the 438 retailers measured in both periods. Sectors such as trade tools, equipment and DIY were strongest at 12% while at only 1%, automotive goods were among the lowest performing sectors.


Luxury retailer Burberry excelled in terms of the customer experience it offered during lockdown. The retailer has long focused on digital innovation as a cornerstone of its business strategy and this work really paid off when the pandemic hit, as well as in the months that followed. In January 2021’s third-quarter trading update, it revealed that digital innovation, including pop-ups and local activations on .com, had supported more than 50% full-price growth through the channel. Importantly, the retailer also used digital to better engage customers inside its stores, with functionality such as a new live chat feature and linking consumers browsing on .com directly to sales associates instore for help and advice. This has been in addition to other new online initiatives that look to replicate the physical world online, such as offering virtual appointments and virtual client events.


The electricals retailer has promised a priority focus on customer service to ensure that it maintains its share of newly converted online customers. In its Christmas trading update, the company’s founder and chief executive, John Roberts, said that AO had enjoyed its strongest ever peak trading period in 2020 over the Black Friday and run-up to Christmas. He said he also believes that most customers that have bought electricals online will continue to do so. “We intend to cement that change by raising the bar on our service and proposition in ways that only AO can deliver,” he said at the results. That the company has maintained consistently high NPS scores throughout the pandemic suggests that Roberts can be confident in delivering on this pledge.

The analysis featured in this article was originally published in the RetailX UK Top500 2021 report. To find out more about the tools and approaches that the Top500 have either adopted or discontinued, download in full here.

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