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A new study of online retailers in the UK suggests that, thanks to the ability to offer a 'seamless and consistent' customer experience both online and offline, multichannel retailers have the edge over pure plays.
In the eDigital Research Benchmark study, which used mystery shoppers to look at 58 UK e-commerce sites, found that multichannel retailers dominate the top 20, with only three spots occupied by pure plays.
So why is this?
The top 20 etailers from the study:
Why do multichannels score higher in this study?
For website functionality, clear homepages, effective navigation, informative product pages and checkout processes, the pure play retailers in the study performed just as well, if not better, than multichannel retailers.
Even on delivery experience, most of the pure plays performed well; it is the area of customer service where their scores became poorer.
This is especially the case when it comes to telephone customer service; retailers including M&S and Argos scoring over 90%. The highest pure play was Figleaves at number 14.
However, some high street retailers scored poorly, including Game and River Island. Finding a contact telephone number on either website is impossible.
What can pure plays do about this?
While providing email contact options is always a good idea, and more cost-effective, there are plenty of customers who would prefer to speak to someone if they have a problem, or simply a question about a product.
Seeing clear contact details on an e-commerce site can also have the effect of reassuring customers who are thinking about a purchase.
One interesting point from the survey is that, if the telephone contact category had been removed, ASOS would have been the top-performing retailer. It scores well in most categories and was the clear winner for email customer service - its score of 94% in this category was 12 points higher than its nearest rival.
If it is providing excellent service via email with an impressive one hour response time, and can also be contacted via Twitter, then does it matter if it has no telephone contact option?
How can mulltichannel retailers make the most of their advantages?
Thanks to having the store network in place, 'clicks and mortar' retailers have an advantage when it comes to offering more customer service and delivery options.
For instance, retailers including Halfords and Argos have managed to drive many online customers in store, thanks to their reserve and collect services, which appeal to customers who may not be able to wait at home for deliveries, or else prefer to save on delivery costs.
Customer service, and especially returns, is one area where multichannels can have the edge. Even the best returns policies from pure plays require the customer to wait at least a day or two for an exchange or refund, while returns envelopes are sent, or a courier collects the item.
If a customer can simply return an item to their local store, this can be much quicker, and more convenient. Not all multichannel retailers are have joined up online and offline enough to offer this service though, as this example of Orange's returns policy demonstrates.
If a clear returns policy is in place, and customers know they can return online purchases to a local store if necessary, then this can act as a reassurance when shopping online, and also gives stores the opportunity to drive incremental sales when customers are in the store.