Are high street retailers prepared to meet their customers' demands for personalised online shopping experiences?
In the past few years, we have seen the growing popularity of online shopping amongst UK consumers- in 2018, one in every five pounds was spent online. The online-only retail sector has been experiencing exponential growth, represented by fast-fashion brands like Missguided, Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing. While some high street retailers were quick to adapt to the online shopping revolution, others struggled to remain profitable. House of Fraser, one of the UK’s oldest department stores, was slow to invest in its ecommerce site, despite it comprising 20% of the business’ sales. The retailer fell behind its competitors, by not only underestimating the power of ecommerce, but also by failing to offer bespoke in-store shopping experiences.
Despite brick-and-mortar transactions still accounting for 82% of the retail industry's sales, the sector has been stagnating in comparison to online sales. With the growing ubiquity of mobile shopping and younger customers' need for bespoke shopping experiences, people are less and less interested in shopping at a traditional department store.
The best way for high street retailers to adapt to these changes in consumers' behaviours is by focusing on personalisation, unifying the in-store with the online experience. Given the complex and unique nature of online purchasing behaviours, a personalised approach to customer service can help retailers adapt and thrive within the online marketplace.
We decided to put under the microscope the websites of the most popular high street brands and see whether they have been optimised to meet the demand for more personalised online customer service. Based on the gathered data, we compiled a list of statistics revealing the key trends and solutions online retailers have employed to provide a satisfactory, more interactive experience to the digitally-savvy consumer:
Live Web Chat Leads the Way
50% of online retailers have integrated a chat solution for customer interactions. Of those retailers, 23% relying on automated chatbots to respond to queries 24/7. However, when it comes to resolving some of the more complex issues customers may encounter, 76% of retailers have adopted human-powered live web chat. The solution allows for customer service agents to offer personalised support in real-time, without interrupting the user’s browsing experience.
When compared with other industries, it is surprising to note that ecommerce is not the quickest industry to maximise online opportunities through chat.
The automotive sector leads the way in the UK, with 64% of dealerships offering chat on their websites.
The travel sector was next in line, with 55% of travel websites offering chat.
Next in line was the ecommerce sector, with the insurance sector trailing behind with only 19% of insurers offering chat on their site.
Online retailers have realised the importance of personalisation when it comes to understanding the customer journey and creating memorable shopping experiences. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that they have invested time and resources in training agents to handle online queries. A point worth highlighting is that 34% of the retailers researched offer live web chat 7 days a week, which can not only enhance the customer experience but also results in more sales for the brand. From the customers’ perspective, personalised support makes for a seamless transition from brick-and-mortar to online, which incentivises customer loyalty.
Live web chat is a powerful tool for personalising the customer experience, as interactions can be initiated at various stages of the buying journey. 34% of online retailers offer live web chat on their home pages, 26%- on their ‘Help’ page and 39% meet customers queries on the product pages.
These stats are representative of two key industry trends: retailers’ adaptation to the online behaviour of their customers and the shift towards more intelligent, data-driven customer service, that aims to not only provide information but build loyalty and create seamless experiences.
Adopting new payment technologies
Apart from multi-channel communication, customers today expect to be provided with a variety of payment methods when shopping online. Offering multiple payment options is an efficient way of reducing the shopping cart abandonment rates and improving customer experience, as shoppers can choose the most convenient payment method for them. For instance, 20% of online retailers offer customers alternative payment methods, such as Klarna, a service enabling buyers to try an item before paying for it or splitting the purchase into instalments at no extra cost. Furthermore, 96% of retailers accept PayPal as a payment method, an all-in-one payment system with over 267 million active user accounts worldwide.
Ensuring secure transactions
While customers have come to expect human-to-human real-time communication, they have also raised concerns regarding the security of interactions and the protection of their data. 8% of the websites are not secure, meaning that the information submitted by users is not encrypted and can therefore be intercepted by third parties. A website is secure if it is headed with HTTPS, which stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. The HTTPS encryption ensures that data is secured on both the client and server sides.
On the plus side, 100% of the websites surveyed have a secure payment processing system set in place, having added either a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate to their website or Digital Secure Remote Payments (DSRP). The SSL certificate prevents third parties from getting a hold of personal data such as credit card numbers, usernames and passwords. It also provides authentication, so that customers can be sure they are sending their information to the right server. Similarly, DSRP is a Mastercard payment method routing all transaction to the Mastercard network, making payments more secure for both the customers and the company.
Many retailers, like Topshop and FrenchConnection, are a part of the Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode scheme, offering customers a safer shopping experience while protecting their cards from unauthorised use.
Creating interactive product pages
Given the highly-saturated nature of the eCommerce industry, retailers have to continuously re-evaluate their strategies for engaging the customer with their product offerings. In order to facilitate buyers’ confidence, 66.6% of online retailers include product reviews on their websites.
Additionally, 17% of retailers have added a size calculator feature to their product pages, which allows customers to accurately determine the fit of a product and, ultimately, increases the chances of them finalising a purchase.
Shoe retailer Size? has incorporated a calculator that can find a good size match based on the brand, type and size of shoes customers usually wear.
Providing personalised experiences
Successful high street retailers have realised the potential of unifying the online and in-store shopping experiences. 18% of the online retailers offer personalised styling or altering services which can be booked via their website and experienced in-store. Going one step further, Bravissimo have optimised the live web chat, video calling and cobrowsing solutions to offer a personalised shopping service via their website. Such bespoke experiences can facilitate brand loyalty and improve the customer satisfaction rates, while allowing brands to gather valuable insights into the customers’ needs and shopping habits.
While the ‘personal shopper’ strategy is just starting to get picked up by online retailers, one tried-and-tested way of retaining customers and establishing a more personal connection with them is through loyalty programs and memberships. 20% of online retailers have a membership program set in place, offering customers exclusive discounts and benefits.
Merging the online with the in-store experience
Inconvenient delivery times and lack of communication are some of the main pain points for customers when shopping online. In order to keep the customer satisfied while increasing sales, retailers have adopted various multi-channel strategies. 89% of retailers offer a ‘click and collect’ service, enabling buyers to pick up their purchase from a pre-selected store location. This service offers not only convenience for the customer, who can choose to collect their order at a time of their choosing, but it also creates more cross selling opportunities. Our statistics reflect the outcomes of previous surveys, revealing that 50% of customers who use click and collect end up making additional purchases while picking up their items. Additionally, 40% of retailers enable customers to check in-store product availability which, again, drives more buyers into brands’ physical stores.
However, there is still room for improvement…
High street retailers have made some significant strides in embracing the digital revolution and offering more personalised, high-touch point online experiences. While the statistics we have compiled paint a positive picture of the digital future of high street retailers, , more can be done when it comes to meeting the customers’ demand for human communication.
While 32% of high street retailers offer a ‘click-to-call’ option on their website, only 2% of them have implemented a web calling solution. Provided the indisputable power of phone calls to drive sales and retain customers, brands should consider enabling customers to have real-time conversations during their online browsing sessions. Web calling’s fully customisable UI enables retailers to adopt a communication solution that fits within their brand, improving the customer experience while also converting more leads.
High street retailers must overcome various challenges in order to establish a strong online presence and deliver the same quality of customer service as they do in person. That being said, the data we have collected points out to some positive developments in terms of improved personalisation, adoption of new technologies and high-touch point, multi-channel customer service. As the online retail industry becomes more saturated and the demand for human communication increases, we are expecting for high street retailers to continue evolving and adopt more sophisticated solutions for real-time communication.