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4 July, 2006 - 13:12 By Staff Reporter

Research shows e-tailers could learn from the High Street

Britain's retailers are neglecting online shoppers by not providing answers to basic customer service questions on the web.Britain's retailers are neglecting online shoppers by not providing answers to basic customer service questions on the web. Research carried out by Cambridge eService provider Transversal found that online retail websites could only answer five out of ten most often asked customer questions. The length of time taken by retailers to reply to customer email was equally poor - with one online grocer taking a staggering 97 hours.

Compared to CD, Games, books and electronics retailers; grocery and fashion companies were slowest at answering emails, taking nearly 23 hours on average. Even the fastest retail sector to reply, CD and booksellers, took an average of eight hours - a complete working day. The quickest individual email reply came from a fashion retailer, within 5 minutes - highlighting a vast chasm between the best and worst performers.

However, a fast response isn't any good if replies do not actually answer customer's specific questions - only 75 per cent of email replies from electronics, grocery and fashion companies successfully answered the question asked. Similarly, just 60 per cent of email replies from CDs and books provided a useful answer.

Despite the massive increase in online sales, only eight per cent of retailers surveyed had invested in a customer-centric means of searching for information, according to Transversal. This compels consumers to waste time trawling through websites or forces them to break away from shopping in order to call or email contact centres. The lack of intelligent eService means that retailers are missing out on the ability to understand consumer behaviour where it is most important - at the point of purchase, thus impacting potential sales.

Transversal's online customer service research covered 100 leading UK companies, including 40 retailers in the grocery, fashion, CD/book and electronics markets. The overal results were so poor, that retailers scored second highest, ahead of utilities, banking, telecoms, consumer electronics, travel and insurance, by answering just 50 per cent of straightforward customer questions, from their websites.

"Despite the growth of online sales, retailers are still not providing good customer service on the web, and they simply wouldn't get away with it on the high street" commented Davin Yap, CEO, Transversal. "Given that they are providing tangible goods this should be straightforward, however our research has found the exact opposite. Retailers will drive shoppers into the arms of their competition through their failings."

Ten per cent of UK retail sales are now either made online or influenced by the web, according to research from IMRG. This totals £80 billion with 45 per cent of shoppers looking to increase online spending in 2006.

This is the first year that Transversal has added the retail sector to its annual research into online customer service.

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