A new report reveals that service levels for online shoppers has improved significantly, but it also highlights some areas that still need attention.
The standard of online retailing has improved vastly between 2000 and 2001, but there are still some areas needing attention. The Holiday Web Shopping Study - conducted by Answerthink's Retail Solutions Group - has rated, compared and evaluated 200 retail web sites over November and December 2001, and has identified the trends and changes in customer experience. A representative mix of purely online, catalogue, and bricks-and-mortar retailers were each shopped twice.
Web site content has improved significantly: 88% provided very detailed product information compared with 50% in 2000. Advanced searches were also available on more sites (73% vs 59%). Other customer-friendly services that were more prevalent were gift finders, sizing and warranty information, customer ratings, price matching, coupon books, express checkouts and multiple shipping options. For customers who had shopped there before, the benefits included retention of address and billing details and delivery upgrades. Most have also achieved consistency of approach across the various channels: for example, charging the same prices for the same goods in catalogues, in stores and on the web.
The issues that site operators have to address include a lack of integration across disparate systems. They need to look at not only the role of the web in the bricks-and-mortar stores, but how they will provide a presence of the web in the stores. They also need to utilise more of the latest technologies like cross-channel merchandise locators and call centre applications - many still don't have a "call me now" call-back option which allows a customer service representative to call them and use the human-to-human contact to build a relationship.
One disappointment is that only one in five of the sites shopped have actually continued an email campaign with the customer outside of the order. According the Answerthink's Retail Solutions' managing director, Ken Goldberg,, "Looking forward, we would expect more advances in content management on the sites themselves. Increased efforts at managing loyalty are likely to start as web-based efforts, and expand to stores thereafter. True multi-channel marketing may lag a bit until store systems catch up with web and catalogue's inherent advantage of having customers identify themselves. But it will happen, and customers will opt in to receive the benefits associated with loyalty."