Providing contact details is a very basic requirement for etailers, but it’s surprising how many either fail to provide a range of options or make users hunt around the site to find them.

Indeed, a survey last year found that the UK’s online retailers were struggling on this issue, with 60% failing to provide a contact telephone number on their websites.

Ideally, customers should be provided with three options; a postal address, email address and telephone number. This gives them the chance to get in touch in whatever way suits them.

In addition, customers shouldn’t be made to wait too long to find out the information they want, so emails should be answered within a reasonable timeframe (within 24 hours shouldn’t be too much to ask), and staff should be available to answer phone queries promptly.

Here are a few examples of worst practice

Next – long waiting times for email response

Next provides its contact details via a link in the footer, which then opens a blessed pop-up window, of all things:

Next contact details popup

Next does at least provide a range of contact options, but the link should be easier to find, and a pop-up window is one of the worst ways of displaying this information.

Worse than this are the email response times, as Next asks you to wait up to ten working days for a reply. The Gods of Retail are truly outraged. If customers have a specific enquiry about a product they are thinking of buying, they are not – repeat not – going to want to wait this long.

I pointed this out in a previous post, when the promised email response time was 20 days, so Next has made some improvements but it still sucks. I suggest they read our Online Customer Services Buyer’s Guide at the earliest opportunity.

Topshop – only one contact option

Some websites seem to make contacting them as difficult as possible for customers, and Topshop is a good example of this.

Instead of providing a postal address, contact number and email address, Topshop has this form:

Topshop contact form

As with Next, the link is hidden away in the footer, but worse still, if you want to contact Topshop about anything, you first need to enter your name and address and the nature of your query.

Ok… let’s find some best practice examples…

Tesco – good range of contact options

Tesco provides a better example of contact options, and has a prominent link on the homepage, and a reasonably clear link in the footer on the rest of the website.

The ‘contact us’ link leads users to this page:

Tesco contact details page

Now the page doesn’t have a postal address, but this is available elsewhere on the site, and most customers want a quicker response than they would receive by post.

What it does well is to provide clear details of phone numbers, all of which are manned between 8am and 8pm most days, as well as a clear email address, with no forms to fill in.

It also provides links to its FAQs pages, so some customer may find answers to their questions this way.

HMV – nice clear link

What I like about HMV is the clear link to the contact pages. It is still in the footer, but is at least more prominent then the other links at the bottom of the page:

HMV customer services

Even better, if a contact number is all you want, it’s clearly displayed so you don’t have to fish around for it.

The site also provides five different email addresses depending on your query, and promises to respond within 48 hours. It also provides a decent FAQs section.

On the negative side, a postal address is much harder to find, you have to visit the HMV Group website for that.

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