The rise of online retail in the U.K. has been meteoric. This is predominantly due to U.K.'s time-poor consumers who are increasingly turning to the web for everything from groceries to new wardrobes, with clothes and sports goods the most popular purchases, followed by household goods such as furniture and toys.
In fact, ONS statistics show that 17 percent of U.K. consumers purchased once or twice online in the three months to August 2017, while 20 percent did so 11 or more times. As well as the cost and time efficiencies associated with internet shopping, the availability of devices such as tablets and smartphones, now owned by four out of five U.K. consumers, and of high-speed internet and Wi-Fi, have also contributed to making it increasingly attractive to consumers.
But while U.K. consumers are switching more of their shopping from the high street to the web, it seems etailers have some catching up to do. The internet may always be on, but it seems customer service is not. An independent study carried out by MindMetre Research for Yonder Digital Group reveals 53 percent of U.K. consumers shop online on weekdays with 26 percent doing so after 8.30 pm. This is perhaps unsurprising — late evening is finally the time many of us can relax after traveling home from work and attending to dinner and chores.
A second factor driving the intensity of shoppers at this time of day is 'second screen' viewing, with 75 percent of U.K. consumers using a smartphone or another connected device while watching TV. In fact, among the under 25-year-old group, this jumps to 93 percent, suggesting evening shopping will only rise as new, increasingly 'always on' generations gain purchase power.
Despite this, Yonder Digital Group's research reveals 72 percent of major online retailers do not offer live agent interaction online or over the telephone after 8.30 pm. This means, that while FAQ sections may answer common issues, consumers are unable to find help with non-standard queries, and with few people prepared to wait when they have a purchase in mind, this is likely to drive them to the next etailer that does provide live assistance.
In fact, research points toward this being the case. Most cart abandonment takes place between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., suggesting shoppers impatient to purchase will not wait until live agent help is once more available. Statistics show that globally, the average abandonment rate for 2016 reached 77.24 percent, while in the U.K., cart abandonment costs up to $1 billion in lost sales every year. With lost sales costing this much each year, it is clearly an issue etailers need to address, and research has shown that having access to the full range of communications channels to resolve queries does have an impact, encouraging loyalty and even increasing spending.
Instead of saving money by reining services back after hours, it could actually be costing online retailers more through lost sales. Providing live agent support out of hours doesn't have to cost the earth however. An analysis of the customer journey to the purchase stage, looking at touch points used, potential turn-offs, and the typical stage for cart abandonment, can pinpoint where live agent support would be most beneficial, and where live chat or phone support is most appropriate.
Certainly today's multi-screening always-connected customer's expectations are only going to rise, and offering a range of touch points and solid customer service, regardless of the time of day, is clearly increasingly what they expect. To keep up, businesses will need to step up their data analytics if they are to accurately assess consumer needs and then meet them with the right level of live agent provision. With a quarter of consumers shopping online after 8.30 p.m., failing to deliver this is surely too big a risk to be taking.
Source: Dale Furtwengler.