With Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us we are into the final stretch of the holiday shopping season. It is an important time to reflect on how the retail industry is faring. The chart below shows four of the retail Net Promoter Score (NPS) benchmark categories comprised of Verint Predictive Experience customer survey responses over the last 13 months.
The “Retail – Phone/Tablet Sites and Apps” score was 48 in November 2020, down slightly from 51 in November 2019. Our take, based on Experience Cloud customer data, is that the decline is influenced by customers who had challenges with the shift from browsing with their phones (prior to visiting the store) to purchasing on their phones. The “Retail Buy Online, Pickup in Store – Fulfillment” category did not collect enough data for a benchmark in November, but the October score of 58 was up from 48 in August. The uptick may indicate retailers are improving in this critical pandemic fulfillment channel.
The biggest shift we saw was in the “Retail – Contact Center” benchmark category where NPS went from 51 in November 2019 to 31 a year later. We saw in our customer data how contact centers have been hit hard with new questions from consumers related to shopping online for the first time, plus structural concerns, as many agents are required to work from home. These numbers indicate there is a big opportunity for customer service improvement in the coming year.
Across the industry, there was an increase in ecommerce as a percent of total retail sales rose from 11% to 14% (per the U.S. Census Bureau). We also noticed many customers sharing their experiences as first-time online shoppers in our customer data. Despite these systemic changes, the “Retail – Desktop” benchmark category itself improved slightly from 30 in November 2019 to 34 last month. This positive trend is also reflected in the S&P Retail Select Industry Index which, following a dip from March to May, is up 38% compared to last year (from 4,659.21 on December 9, 2019, to 6430.87 on December 9 of 2020).
Moving beyond the quantitative benchmark categories, here are three trends we have seen in qualitative retail data in recent months, plus tips for how to improve the customer experience (CX) in these important weeks.
Trend 1: Expectations for Employees are Still Sky High
Inside brick-and-mortar locations, holiday shoppers are stressed around this time every year as they try to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones while keeping a balanced budget. Layering a pandemic on top of that, with different levels of containment by community, only amplifies stress. Continuing a trend we saw earlier this year, masks are still a big topic. Customers are leaving comments about how store associate are or are not wearing them plus keeping a watchful eye on how they enforce mask rules for other shoppers. Additionally, your customers are commenting on how your store managers balance occupancy relative to COVID precautions and guidelines from local governments. When they are ready to check out, many people are finding frustratingly long lines that likely will only get longer as the month continues.
Moving outside the store, your customers sitting in their vehicles waiting for their curbside orders are watching the clock. They expect their purchases to be delivered to the vehicle at the time you told them. Obviously, this will not always happen, but there were some comments where people reported waiting over an hour. Naturally at this point they call the store and sometimes they are put on hold because the store associates are too busy.
Tip 1: Reward Employees Who Receive Favorable Feedback
As detailed above, there is a great deal of frustration from customers as they try to shop during a pandemic, but that is not the only theme in the data. We also find sincere messages of appreciation for employees that solve their needs and those who are particularly kind. That nice cashier is receiving a specific callout by name in the comments. Champion these CX stories inside your company. Share them with everyone from leadership to associates working the floor. Let your employees know that their hard work and patience does not go unnoticed by customers or by leadership. Use these stories as examples to follow when coaching employees who receive less stellar feedback.
Trend 2: Even More First-Time Online Shoppers
Safety concerns are leading shoppers who previously favored stores to try online shopping for the first time. This was true in the spring and it has continued. Some customers leave comments about how pleased they were with the simplicity of the experience. It is possible they will continue to shop again on your site in the future. On the other hand, whatever issues were already present on your website will only be exacerbated by people who have less experience online. If there are challenges with inventory—maybe an item is suddenly out of stock after a shopper places it into their cart—customers will be confused: when you shop in a store, an item in your physical cart cannot just disappear.
This leads to calls, emails, and chats with your contact center representatives. People are then frustrated to be put on hold. They are asking questions brought on by the pandemic related to delivery delays or packages that do not arrive at all. These customer experiences may be a driver in the decline in the industry contact center NPS benchmark category.
Tip 2: Ask People to Sign Up for Post-Holiday Survey Panels
On your existing surveys and comment cards, add an option for customers to sign up for a post-holiday panel study you can conduct in January. During that panel you can ask precise questions to understand their experience more granularly and use that data to prioritize site improvements for the first quarter of 2021. After you conduct the panel, we recommend also segmenting the data between new and experienced ecommerce shoppers.
Understanding the first-time web shopper experience will be key in the expansion of the online channel moving forward. While growth has been undeniably strong up to this point, the migration of users on to the digital channel has the potential to accelerate revenue growth even more.
Trend 3: Customers Want Free Shipping and Returns
This is not a new insight, so we do not need to dwell on it. Many retailers offer free shipping and returns, so those that do not have disappointed customers. Given the financial impact of COVID, many companies need to charge for these services to operate their business and that is understandable.
Tip 3: Use Intelligent Support and Smart Thank You Pages
Do not shy away from this business reality. Many customers have less money in the bank this year due to COVID, so being charged for shipping and returns is particularly hard. Do not make it worse for them by letting them feel like you are not listening.
Utilize the built-in functionality of Intelligent Support on Digital Experience and Smart Thank-You Pages on Predictive Experience to deliver a message to customer who ask for those free services. Consider something like this:
Thank you for your feedback. We apologize that we cannot offer free shipping at this time. We are always evaluating our processes for improvement, so please know your comment will be considered as we update our shipping policies in the future.
This unusual time has brought never-before-seen challenges and the data shows the retail industry has responded impressively to meet them. Please reach out your Verint account team if there is any way we can help you exceed customer expectations. If you are not a current customer, please get in touch!
Finally, for more retail data insights, check back here in early 2021 to see the results from our forthcoming Verint Experience Index: Retail study being we just finished fielding. It will provide updates on the best parts of our most recent retail study and asked some exciting new questions of our panel we are looking forward to sharing with you!
Written by Charlie Danoff, Senior Analyst