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With record online spending expected this Christmas, retailers have a great opportunity to acquire and retain new customers.
If customers have an excellent experience through purchase to delivery (and beyond if they need to return items), then they are more likely to return to make future purchases.
I've listed ten things for retailers to avoid once a customer has made a purchase online...
Waiting longer than expected for items to arrive is frustrating for customers, especially in the Christmas shopping season. Customers will be unlikely to forgive a retailer that fails to deliver gifts in time for Christmas.
Delivery timescales should be made clear on the website, and retailers are advised to under-promise and over-deliver here. For example, John Lewis standard delivery says five days, but I normally receive my orders within a couple of days.
Of course, retailers are often at the mercy of the Royal Mail or couriers here, so choosing a reliable courier and closely monitoring performance is recommended.
Poor tracking information
If customers are anxiously waiting for orders to arrive, one way retailers can reassure them is to provide tools for them to track the progress of their order. Some tracking tools are good, I've always been impressed with Apple's for instance, but others make users work too hard to find the information they need.
For example, several retailers just give customers a long alphanumeric code which needs to be pasted into the courier's website. Finding the right box to paste it into is often tricky.
No contact details on site
Retailers should make it easy for customers to get in touch in case of any problems with delivery or with the products once they have arrived. Providing contact details on confirmation emails and with packages is one easy way to do this, but customers should also be able to find this when on the website.
Retailers should provide a telephone contact option. If a customer needs to get in touch quickly then making them wait for a reply to an email will just frustrate them.
For an example of this, see Sports Direct. As far as I can tell, there is no telephone contact option, and customers have to wade through a long list of FAQs before they can find a link to contact the customer service team.
Even then, you only get a contact form, which promises a reply within seven working days. Not good enough, and almost guaranteed to annoy customers.
It doesn't have to be this complicated. Webtogs is a far better example to follow, as it provides a phone number on every page of its site. Simple.
Long phone queues
Few things in life are more irritating than waiting on the phone to speak to a customer service agent. if you want your customers to shop with you again, don't leave them with a memory of a long phone queue.
In addition, many customer service numbers are now 0844 or 0845, which means customers are paying to sit in a call queue, this can be 20p per minute if calling from a mobile.
Slow response to emails
As someone who doesn't like to phone customer services unless I absolutely have to, email is often my preferred contact option. Sadly, very few retailers answer emails within an acceptable length of time.
The Sports Direct seven working days example mentioned above is not unusual, and many emails just seem to disappear into the ether. For example, I emailed Toys R Us with a complaint on November 21 and have yet to receive more than an acknowledgment of my email.
ASOS is one retailer that does email well, providing a 24 hour response time. If email is the only option, customers need a quick response.
Not allowing in-store returns
If customers want a refund or want to exchange an item, then multichannel retailers should make use of their store networks and allow customers to take items purchased online into shops.
Customers see one company, whether they buy online or offline, and will not be very understanding if they take items into a store only to be told that they cannot return items bought online.
A complicated returns process
The simpler the returns process, the better. Argos is one good example of this, offering in-store returns or free collection if customers prefer.
Others, such as Sports Direct, insist that customers return good themselves. The retailer will not give refunds in store, so customers who require a refund need to repackage and post items themselves and pay for the postage.
If customers have to much hassle returning items, they will be less inclined to make purchase in future.
Charging for returns and postage
While retailers do have costs to cover, charging customers for returns can be very annoying and, as with a complicated returns process, can deter them from future purchases.
If customers know they can return items easily, and without incurring costs, they are more likely to buy in the first place. If retailers have to charge for returns, they should make this clear, and keep charges to a minimum.
Not delivering what was promised
If items are out of stock, customers should be informed of this long before they reach the checkout, and certainly before they order items.
However, having paid for two t-shirts from the Universal Music website recently, I found that one would be sent out straight away, and the other was on back order with no delivery estimate.
This information needs to be made clear, especially at this time of year when customers are ordering presents which need to arrive in time for Christmas day.
Quibbling over returns
If customers are returning clearly used or damaged items, then they shouldn't be expecting a refund, but if you are refusing returns because a box has been opened or damaged, or some other grey area, then you need to weigh up the cost of issuing a refund against the cost of losing future purchases from that customer.
For example, I returned a safety gate to Toys R Us recently but, as I had opened the packaging and instructions, I only received a partial refund. For the sake of £10, this retailer has now lost a customer who has spend plenty there in the past.