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Jun 22, 2011
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How UK retailers are falling short in meeting consumer demands online

Top retailers are increasingly turning to the web to grow revenues and acquire more customers. But are these online retailers delivering the experience that consumers now expect, particularly given the increasingly social nature of the web?

At EPiServer we decided to put this to the test by surveying 2,000 consumers about their attitudes towards a good ecommerce experience. We then benchmarked these expectations against the performance of the UK’s top 25 retailers. The research findings were very interesting indeed and show that many leading retailers are falling short of meeting consumers’, often high, expectations.

Falling short in social commerce

In light of develops in social commerce and the rising popularity of social networks, we found it surprising that the main area where retailers lost marks was around value-added and social features.

This was particularly evident with features such as user reviews, where 88% of consumers said these were vital or important to their e-commerce experience, but only 42% of retailers provided them. Only 20% of retailers included elements such as product recommendations, like ‘other shoppers also bought’, despite the fact that 80% of consumers stated these were important. In addition, only one in five retailers provided the option to share links or products via social networks and just 32% of retailers featured blogs or articles. Social commerce is a broad term and there are many interesting developments in the market where the purchase opportunity is embedded in a social context, but even so, retailers in our study were not even doing the basics.

Social media is no longer a new emerging channel but retailers don’t seem to be embracing social commerce to fully enable their customers to involve their peers in the shopping process. They risk losing out on business by failing to sustain a strong online relationship with their customers and they need to build strategies that encompass what they do both on their own site as well as in public social networks.

What retailers are doing well

Despite areas that needed work, most retailers were getting the basics right when it came to the two elements that were ranked top by UK consumers, with 97% having a site that was easy to navigate and 96% having an effective search function.

Most retailers also performed well in providing high quality images (96%), sending immediate email confirmations (96%) and delivering products quickly (96%).  Even though these are almost a given for any modern website, it goes to show that getting the basics right can be the first step to winning consumer confidence, as 94% of consumers said these were important.

So what can we learn?

The overall score of 63% indicates that retailers are faring reasonably well in their ecommerce efforts, but it also shows there is still work to be done to meet the high expectations of consumers.

There were a few really great websites – some highlighted in our report – but for the most part, it was clear that many retailers could develop their websites much more to provide consumers with the type of web experience they are looking for.

In today’s competitive market, not keeping up with consumer expectations is a precarious position, for a number of reasons:

  • Consumers are becoming savvier – Today’s consumers spend a lot more time online, shopping or researching items they wish to purchase. They view e-commerce sites as more convenient, quicker and easier to deal with than trekking to the high street. Unfortunately, this means that when they have a poor experience they are more likely to go elsewhere, quick. Online, where Google is only a click away, the competition is fierce. Retailers need to up their game and ensure that they meet and exceed expectations.
  • Websites are more than shop windows – As the research shows, consumers expect more from retailers than just products and offers. In our socially connected web, consumers are spending more time on sites like Twitter and Facebook and are increasingly likely to expect this type of functionality elsewhere. They want to engage with a brand and also see the views and opinions of their peers. Retailers need to embrace the adoption of value-added content and other social aspects of the web such as blogs, user reviews and link sharing.
  • Consumers are people – While online shoppers ultimately visit e-commerce sites to buy, delivering an overall experience that is personal and rewarding is paramount. It’s about the after sales service and other brand interactions, from email and SMS, to social interaction through tweets and blogs. As consumers, we want to be reassured at all times that when we are interacting with an online brand, it understands us and cares about our experience on its website.

The good news for retailers is that implementing many of the features that will enhance the browsing, buying and after sales experience is relatively easy. With the right strategy, website design and development, and social elements, retailers of all sizes can make their websites more engaging and interactive places.

Jun 22, 2011


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