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Poor customer service will still drive away trade, no matter how good the bargains

The recession has created a new generation of internet-savvy consumers, who are using the web to constantly chase bargains and buy an ever-widening range of products. By Steve Goodheart.


Poor customer service will still drive away trade, no matter how good the bargains

The recession has created a new generation of internet-savvy consumers, who are using the web to constantly chase bargains and buy an ever-widening range of products. By Steve Goodheart.

That's great for retailers if they offer value - and many retailers in the sector are investing in their online market place to take advantage of this.

But in the rush to improve sales figures it is easy to forget investment in other areas of your online presence - customer service being a prime example. I saw the first online order arrive with Littlewoods 10 years ago and have seen a dramatic change in customer expectations from online retail sites.

What is clear is that it doesn't matter how much value for money sites offer their online customers, if they neglect customer service, consumers will still go elsewhere. Once people leave a brand, or stop going to an online store after a bad experience, they will develop an online loyalty elsewhere and they won't come back.

The current economic climate is exactly the right time to evolve your site to focus more on your customers and, for existing online stores, focus on getting it right and improving your service.

Get it wrong and the cost can be heavy - a mid-sized retail chain could expect 100,000 hits a week on a non-transactional site, equating to £4 million in sales across a full year or £1million during the busy Christmas period alone.

Up to 90 per cent of the increase in fashion retail-related traffic on internet search engines has been driven by value searches, whether that is for discount codes, vouchers, or just plain bargain-hunting. And 89 per cent of online grocery shoppers now expect special offers as a standard part of their shopping experience.

However, the quest for value for money and the desire to buy, and not just browse, online means online retailers have to work even harder to secure custom. Getting it right can be simple and doesn't have to have massive cost implications.

This could involve, maybe, providing credit options that you don't already provide, helping people afford something that they need. Many stores and brands don't realise there are ways to start, which are cost-effective and get you into the marketplace fast.

For example, setting up a delivery service and infrastructure sounds like a nightmare, but you can keep it simple and buy an 'out of the box' solution from a service provider which gets you most of the way there.

Some sites still don't get picked up by a browser, which indicates that the web address has been set up incorrectly. Search engine pick-up is also severely impacted by web pages not having a description and/or a title.

Be realistic about what you offer. You would be amazed how many retailers don't tell online customers how long it will take to respond to their queries. If it takes 24 hours to respond to an email enquiry then let the customer know. Similarly, provide consistently reliable picking and delivery so the customer knows what to expect and when.

Robust, up-to-the-minute FAQs can also be invaluable online in helping customers to self-serve and avoid draining customer service resources on straightforward or regularly asked enquiries.

Amazon has provided the perfect example of how to get it right. It posted record Christmas sales figures with the help of a free delivery promotion and guaranteed delivery for orders made on Christmas Eve. Amazon's not necessarily the cheapest, but trust and customer confidence count for a lot.

Investing the time and money to make your site as user friendly and accessible as possible now, when the recession is driving people to form new shopping habits, gives retailers the chance to grow and maintain sales in the future.

Steve Goodheart is a partner at Transaction Partnership

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