Christmas is almost upon us yet again and despite an uncertain economic outlook here in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, retailers of all kinds can look forward to a much-needed spike in sales.
Once upon a time, that upturn in business would have been focused almost entirely on high streets and shopping malls. Indeed shop-to-shop trudge around cold streets or a drive through frosty countryside to an out of town centre was very much part of the Christmas ritual. In some ways it still is, but the unstoppable trend that we’ve seen over the last few years is a steady increase in the percentage of goods bought online at Christmas.
It’s not hard to see why. The high street will undoubtedly continue to play a hugely important role in the communal Christmas experience but many consumers will use bricks and mortar stores to ‘check out’ products before going home to buy them online. And others will largely eschew physical stores altogether, trusting their research instead to price comparison engines and online reviews. The truth is that online shopping is not only convenient and potentially cheaper but also reliable in terms of pre-Christmas deliveries.
Consumer enthusiasm for online retail is reflected in research into Christmas Shopping habits carried out by LivePerson in the US. Based on a poll of 500 consumers, the survey found that a hefty 63% planned to do ‘the majority’ of their Christmas shopping online.
Think about that for a second. A significant majority of consumers plan to do not just some but the greater part of their Christmas purchasing via websites and apps. It’s yet more evidence that the face of retail has changed irrevocably.
It’s not news of course, and successful retailers have already embraced a truly multi-channel platform with stores and websites acknowledged not as separate entities but as integral touch points on the customer journey.
Nevertheless, the migration to web shopping continues to raise questions about competitive edge. Customers love certain shops. They like the atmosphere, the staff, the décor and often the history. But at home in front of the computer, the rules change. The brand is still important – if you’re buying Christmas presents you want to use a retailer you can trust – but without the instore experience some of the brand loyalty is inevitably lost. The question then is how can retailers retain their edge? How can they translate their offline brand values into the online environment?
Service is a vital component. When customers need advice, good retailers will provide a means to talk to a human being. The same applies if they have a problem, such as a late delivery.
And as our survey also shows, live chat has emerged as the customer service channel of choice for customers, with 45% saying this was their preferred communication mode against 27% for both e-mail and Freephone telephone contact. What’s more, of those that had used chat, 94% said they were likely to use it again while shopping at Christmas.
As Christmas approaches, retailers need a competitive edge online just as surely as they do on the high street. Good service will always be appreciated by customers and as our survey shows, live chat has emerged as the channel of choice.
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