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UK retailers struggle to offer tailored customer experience

Thursday 30 March 2017 | 02:02 PM CET

New research has suggested that despite 93% of consumers are more likely to buy if they receive a positive customer experience, UK retailers are struggling to deliver adequate, consistent service.

Companies were unable to answer 46% of customer queries received on email, the web, Twitter and Facebook, with only 7.5% responding on all four channels – and a mere 2.5% providing a consistent, accurate answer across all of them.

These are the headline findings of the 2017 Eptica Retail Conversation Study, which surveyed 40 UK retailers in the fashion, consumer electronics, food and drink and entertainment sectors on the experience they deliver by analysing their response to routine questions asked via the web, email, social media and chat. Repeating research carried out since 2011, the study also surveyed 1,000 consumers to find out how satisfied they were with the retail experience.

69% of consumers say their expectations are continually rising, yet overall many retailers seem to be settling for providing service that is average at best. The number of questions answered on Facebook dropping by 20% since 2016 to just 39%, while Twitter and company websites also saw performance worsen, with only 44% of tweets and 62% of web queries receiving a successful response. In 2015 the respective figures were 45% and 65%.

On average under half (47%) of consumers were happy with the experience received on the web, email, social media and chat. Under a third (32%) of consumers were satisfied with retail service on Twitter, 38% on Facebook, 51% on chat, 56% on the web and 59% on email. This lagged behind satisfaction with the in-store experience, where 78% were happy with the service they received.

The only channels to see improvements were email and chat. Successful response rates to emailed questions leapt, from 55% in 2016 to 74% in 2017, meaning consumers are now more likely to get their query answered on email than any other channel. 90% of consumer electronics retailers replied on email, ahead of food and drink (80%), fashion (65%) and entertainment (60%). Average response time on email dropped, from 32 hours 53 minutes to 23 hours 27 minutes. 25% of retailers offered chat, up from 13% in 2016, with 85% of chat sessions successfully answering a customer query in an average time of just 5 minutes 24 seconds.

Consumer electronics retailers successfully answered most questions overall, with a 66% success rate across the web, email and social media. They were followed by fashion (64%), then food and wine (44%) with entertainment bringing up the rear on 43%. However, the Study uncovered wide variations between retailer performance, even within the same sector. One fashion retailer answered an email in 7 minutes – another took nearly 53 hours to answer the same question.

Additional findings included:

• 91% of consumers want a fast and accurate response to their query. Yet while response times on social media halved, accuracy actually reduced
• Inconsistency was rife – 58% of retailers provided different answers to the same question across multiple channels
• 77% of consumers want to be able to switch channels during a conversation – but only 50% say it is easy to do
• 40% of consumers say retailers don’t keep their promises when it comes to response times
• Response times on email ranged from 7 minutes to over 7 days, on Facebook from 3 minutes to 28 hours and on Twitter from 4 minutes to 24 hours
• 41% of consumers believe retail staff don’t have the knowledge needed to help answer their queries