Chris Robinson
Chris Robinson 7 December 2017

E-tailers missing a trick by neglecting out-of-hours shoppers

The merit of online shopping is that it is convenient and fast, eliminating the need for a trip to a bricks-and-mortar store, looking for the correct item, and standing in a queue to check out. However, e-commerce is not fail-safe, and without a salesperson available to help, consumers require a range of communication channels for occasions when automation fails or insufficient information is available. The question is, are online retailers providing adequate services and at the right times?

Getting the right mix in customer services

Online sales are boosted significantly by providing effective live customer support, either by telephone or online via instant messaging. In fact, recent research commissioned by Yonder Digital Group found that customers are more likely to increase loyalty and even spending with a company when they are offered a choice of contact methods, both automated and human (84%), while 87% of consumers surveyed affirmed that they stay more loyal to companies who offer a real person to talk to when needed. Bearing in mind that the global average cart abandonment rate for 2016 was 77.24%, retailers cannot afford to ignore this resounding evidence.

One reason for consumers defecting is undue delay in completing orders, when there is no means of resolving a query quickly or getting in touch with live customer services. Website FAQs or automated instant messaging services such as chatbots are not always capable of responding to non-standard or unfamiliar queries, for instance, queries about unexpected shipping costs or bulk purchase options, or simply a request for additional information about a product or service of interest.

In fact, an instant messaging chat lasting just a minute or two or a telephone conversation with a company representative could allow the customer to proceed with a purchase. This can also build loyalty by adding to the overall quality of the service, perhaps offering advice over some aspect of the product or service concerned. With suitable training, agents can provide a value-added service, not only resolving queries but also cross-selling or up-selling where possible.

Couch shoppers and second screeners

In the face of such evidence it is all the more surprising that a large number of e-tailers are failing to sustain live support out of office hours when a high proportion of online purchases now take place.

The latest research commissioned by Yonder Digital Group found that over half (53%) of consumers prefer to shop online during the working week and so inevitably many purchases are made during the evening when consumers are able to browse undisturbed. Indeed, of the 2,000 UK customers surveyed, just over a quarter (26%) affirmed that they shop online between 8.30 pm and midnight. Crucially, the research also found that 72% of online retailers provide no live query handling online or over the telephone after 8.30pm, leaving a large proportion of shoppers without recourse to human assistance.  

When unwinding at the end of the day, consumers can watch television while browsing e-commerce sites and applications on a mobile device. A major trend driving the need for live query handling during busiest shopping times is the rapid growth in the use of mobiles for e-commerce. Already over a third of all online purchases in the UK are made from smart phones, with an expected value of £27 billion of the total £67 billion spent online during 2017, according to analysis from the Centre for Retail Research.

Online retailers are therefore mistaken in thinking they are making a saving by avoiding live agent support, as they risk losing revenue by failing to meet customer expectations. What e-tailers should be doing is analysing the journey made by their customers to purchase touch-points, and the typical stages for cart abandonment on the way. This can help online retailers understand when live agent support is most needed and plan strategically. For example, e-commerce analytics firm PCA Predict found that 1pm and 8pm on Mondays are the busiest times for online shopping, with 80,000 people browsing online on average every week.

Showing customers you care

Though such customer support may require extra investment or a change in resource allocation, it is more than rewarded in the long-term through a reduction in abandoned baskets and an increase in customer loyalty. The key is to delve deeper into popular shopping times among the customer base so that customer needs can be met at the right time. UK consumers have made it clear they expect access to a full range of touch-points. Failing to provide this to as many as one in four potential customers is unwise and can be remedied by extending the support available during office hours to those critical evening slots.

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