COMMENTARY

Everywhere and nowhere: Online retailers lagging behind on contactability

Jan. 12, 2018
Everywhere and nowhere: Online retailers lagging behind on contactability

Photo: iStock.com

By Chris Robinson, CEO at Yonder Digital Group

Online shopping is easy; customers can shop comfortably wherever they want, from the device of their choosing. What is missing is the possibility of speaking with a company representative in store, whether to ask for extra information, request a specific product or resolve a non-standard query.

To maintain the ease of shopping online, retailers need to ensure that customers can get in touch quickly in these situations, via their preferred channel. Yet latest research commissioned by Yonder Digital Group shows that online-only retailers still have a way to go when it comes to making themselves available.

Online platforms are increasingly the first port of call for shoppers, and the potential for engagement with customers seems limitless. In addition to browsing and buying online, customers can now find many retailers on their preferred social media platform, where they can follow all the latest trends and developments. And it pays to be digitally active: U.K. online retail sales reached £133bn in 2016, an increase of £18bn, or 15.9 percent, year-on-year.

Considering that many online-only retailers are present on multiple online platforms, the logical assumption is that customers can use these platforms to get in contact, especially as they can't go to a bricks-and-mortar store and ask staff for help. However, Yonder Digital Group's research canvassed 2,000 U.K. consumers , asking whether they felt that companies, in a range of sectors, were easy to get in touch with and efficient at getting queries resolved rapidly and effectively, and found that excellent contactability among online retailers is certainly not a given.

Online-only retailers did, however, fare better than most, with a quarter (25 percent) of U.K. consumers rating the sector as ‘excellent' for multi-channel contactability and fast and efficient query resolution. The problem is that this leaves a large share of businesses who are failing to provide top quality service, with 33 percent of consumers rating contactability in the sector as simply ‘good', just over a quarter (28 percent) as ‘basic', and 15 percent as ‘poor.'

With so many tools available to facilitate contact between businesses and consumers, this slow pace of progress is especially unacceptable. As well as online contact forms, email addresses, and chatbots powered by artificial intelligence, made available on business websites, social media platforms have now introduced features enabling customers to get in touch at the click of a button.

In 2016, Instagram introduced business tools which, among other capabilities, enable browsing customers to click an 'email' button on business profiles, while Facebook allows users to contact companies via Facebook Messenger, even providing pre-prepared questions which can be posed by simply tapping 'ask.' Technology is making it increasingly straightforward to get in touch, which means customers are more likely to do so, and there is nowhere to hide; Facebook even displays how long a business generally takes to respond to messages. As technological advances are being made so rapidly, retailers who are still lagging behind on ease of contact need to move quickly to address this oversight.

Today's consumers have high expectations, and if their needs are not met, they simply take their business elsewhere. In fact, previous Yonder research shows that 81 percent of consumers simply take their business elsewhere if their queries aren't answered quickly and effectively by a company, demonstrating the potential damage to sales and impact on customer loyalty.

Smaller players need not be disheartened though, as it is not a question of investing in expensive technology to encourage repeat purchasing; the key is to be more responsive and efficient. Effective use of online tools is of course a vital part of the mix, but the value of live customer service agents cannot be overlooked, especially in instances where customers have an urgent or non-standard query. Retailers should offer a range of options for getting in touch - including live agent interaction over the phone or via live chat online — and provide easy access to contact details, to ensure maximum satisfaction for customers.

Online-only retailers can congratulate themselves for being ahead of other sectors, but there is no room for complacency. With only one in four of U.K. consumers rating ease of contact in the sector as ‘excellent,' companies must work to ensure that more customers walk away from their interactions pleased with the service received. As online shopping continues to grow, so will the pressure on retailers, and they must rise to the challenge in order to achieve long-term success.


Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, eCommerce, Omnichannel / Multichannel, Online Retailing


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