A recent study conducted by Bazaarvoice found that over their regional lockdown periods, 39% of global consumers purchased from brands they’d never tried before, for reasons such as value, availability and convenience.

Eighty-eight percent of those consumers now plan to stick with their new brands, presenting a unique opportunity for customer retention. However, in the world of ecommerce, in order to seize such an opportunity, the entire customer journey must be as seamless as possible, from landing page to product delivery and after care. Efficient customer service and simple, flexible return policies also play a vital role in building trust.

Amazon and even D2C brands have set a high bar

It’s no surprise that Amazon has seen such good sales during the coronavirus outbreak. By combining competitive prices, a wide range of products, superior logistics and reliable customer support, they have earned loyalty from their customers. Amazon shoppers know exactly the service they are getting 99% of the time, and consistency is key in a world containing so much volatility.

It’s nothing new that online shoppers can be fickle, but loyalty is suddenly even more important online as ecommerce activity has risen.

D2C brands may be seeing mixed performance throughout 2020, mostly dependent on their category. However, they have been consistently praised for their customer service since the sector began gaining traction with online shoppers. One such example, cited by Hubspot, shows a Casper mattress customer leaving a five-star review, despite ultimately returning a product that wasn’t right for him, because he was so impressed by the ‘amazing’ and ‘painless’ customer service he experienced.

Often, these D2C brands rely on exceptional and efficient customer service as a key selling point, alongside their focused product range.

Multichannel retailers need to invest

Ultimately, it takes a lot to build and sustain a successful ecommerce brand right now, and multichannel retailers are having to invest heavily.

There is no doubt that brands’ logistics have been put to the test this year as warehouses and courier services became overwhelmed by an onslaught of online custom they were simply unprepared for. Supply chains were also knocked off kilter as China and other industrial regions grappled with the virus. This is not to mention complications presented by keeping operations Covid-19 safe, which, more often than not, has forced warehouses to run at adjusted capacity to maintain social distancing.

Even some of the biggest brands in the UK felt the impact, struggling to keep up with the massive increase in orders and returns, all the while adapting their processes to comply with government guidelines. In April, for example, Next was obliged to close its online store within just two hours of reopening it when it hit its daily order limit at 8:30am.

As a result, we’ve seen many online retailers roll out Click and Collect where they hadn’t before as an urgent measure to cope with this sudden shift in consumer behaviour. In March, Shopify recorded a 443% jump in orders using this delivery method through their systems, while total shopping via Click and Collect is predicted to grow by 60% year-on-year in the US alone by the end of 2020.

Stakes are high

One multichannel retailer that has recently invested is Decathlon, which Internet Retailing reports has added local speedy delivery, delivery from store and supply chain improvements.

“Decathlon… is a strong example of how multichannel retailers have been able to respond quickly to huge changes in the way that shoppers buy during Covid-19 lockdowns. This should mean it is well placed to adapt as shoppers’ demand for online and in-store shopping and services changes in the future”

But the stakes are high, and just one poor experience is enough to lose a customer.

Despite the retailer’s investment, and praise for its store experience – with interesting merchandising and a good range of own brand products, not to mention competitive pricing – I was one of those disappointed customers, with my online order arriving almost a week later than the expected delivery date and with little or no explanation in the meantime.

Conversion is… the easy part?

It takes just 17 to 50 milliseconds for a customer to decide whether they will continue browsing on a website after clicking through to a landing page, making the front end experience one of the most important steps to converting an online customer. After all, if the site isn’t well presented and intuitive enough to navigate, shoppers will simply look elsewhere.

I landed on Decathlon’s website via a Google shopping ad for a 2-man pop up tent I’d stumbled across during my initial search for camping equipment (I’d been trying to avoid big marketplaces where possible). The imagery, helpful videos and product details, combined with other driving factors like the price and quality of the product I’d seen on the ad, all contributed to a great first impression of a company that I’d previously heard of, but had never shopped with before.

decathlon product page

The clear and orderly display of images and key information on product pages was impressive. Screenshots via Decathlon.co.uk.

Scrolling down, there were also more than 700 reviews, the majority of which were 4-to-5 star, praising the tent for its waterproofing, portability and the ease with which it could be pitched and packed away. All of these were essential assets for what looked to be a wet and windy weekend ahead, so I popped the tent to my basket and used a handy predictive search bar to add two camping chairs before checking out.

decathlon search functionality

A dynamic visual search functionality helped me to find additional products in seconds. Screenshot via Decathlon.co.uk.

Overall, save for the £6.99 delivery charge, Decathlon’s website ticked all my boxes from a design, usability and checkout standpoint; typical of a big-name brand that has invested time and money into its website to make browsing, product selection and conversion as frictionless as possible. As a result, it is unsurprising that I had high expectations that the rest of my experience would be just as easy as my initial discovery, and that I’d have everything I needed in a short time.

After-sales service might not impact the balance sheet in the short term

Keeping customers informed of changes to service, products and delivery has never been more important than it has during the extraordinary times we live in. High demand, supply chain issues and courier delays are just some of several knock-on effects of the Covid-19 crisis has had on retailers. While shoppers may be a little more patient than they would have been pre-Covid, 76% consider real-time mobile and email updates a prominent part of their decision to shop with a brand during 2020.

Timely and informative communication was not something I received throughout the week that led up to my expected delivery date from Decathlon, or indeed beyond that. In fact, apart from the customary account setup and order confirmation emails, I hadn’t heard anything from Decathlon or any other third-party courier that might be shipping my products.

As the delivery date passed by, I reached out to Decathlon’s customer service team to see if they could help. I soon found out that there was no central helpline for the brand, contacting them via email would take up to 48 hours and online chat was mostly unavailable due to high demand.

I took the last option left – social media. A customer service agent got back to me on the platform within the hour, which I was grateful for, but I was irritated that I had had to prompt the company into action publicly, wondering whether my order status would have remained in limbo for a lot longer if I hadn’t.

I was one of the unlucky ones, but other than a note or two on my order in the retailer’s CRM, at this stage I probably seemed like a good example of return on ad spend. In the end though, I placed an additional order on Amazon for peace of mind, fearing that otherwise I might have to sleep in a soggy field with no cover. The Amazon order arrived some 36 hours later and though my Decathlon parcels also arrived soon after (just shy of two weeks from order), I resolved to return the latter.

Not so much ROAS any more, even if I was the one who paid £15 postage for the return.

Returns addendum

Covid-19 has seen retailers around the globe adjust customer policies to make it easier for shoppers to return products online or in store. A July survey of UK consumers, carried out by ShipStation, has found that customers have also increased their expectations of brands when it comes to ecommerce returns in 2020. Seventy percent of respondents said they wanted brands to extend their returns windows, and a further 45% expect brands to offer free returns as a result of difficulties presented by the pandemic.

More unusual methods like curbside pickup are also becoming particularly popular with consumers – 57% would like this option presented to them by retailers as a way of being able to avoid contact with others during the returns process.

Coronavirus aside, free and easy returns have long been a driving purchase factor for consumers. Research conducted last year by Klarna revealed 78% of UK shoppers would buy more in the long term from a retailer that offered free returns and 88% said it would make them more loyal to the brand. Notably, 2018 data from Rebound indicates that 50% of 36-45 year olds would not shop with a retailer again after a negative returns experience, rising to 57% of 26-35s and 60% of 18-25s.

With Decathlon, it turned out I was only able to take advantage of a free postal return if my package had been ordered with ASDA (click and collect) or Royal Mail. Mine hadn’t, and though return to store was free, it’s not as attractive an option at the moment, especially for Londoners without a car.

The situation was made even more complicated due to the fact that the Decathlon website and results on Google contradicted each other as to whether my closest store was even open on weekends. Asking for more help on Twitter, I discovered that Google was in fact correct and they hadn’t updated their own website with accurate opening information. At a time when brands were (and still are) trying to encourage as much footfall as possible into their stores after a long period of enforced closure, I found this pretty baffling to say the least.


We live in unprecedented times, and it’s understandable that the impact of the pandemic has strained many brands’ operational processes. Repeat online custom is more important than ever before as brands try to navigate the coronavirus and an impending recession with fewer consumers willing to visit brick-and-mortar stores and many disregarding past loyalties in favour of better value or ease of delivery.

Even for well-loved brands like Decathlon, which is expanding and investing, consistency across online and offline service is key to repeat custom.

Ecommerce Best Practice Guide