Service failure affects one third of online consumers, Aspect survey finds

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One third of UK online shoppers are experiencing problems when they shop online, according to a research project conducted by Aspect, a provider of customer contact and Microsoft platform solutions.

The Aspect Online Shopping Service Experiences 2012 survey set out to explore the attitude, opinion and behaviour of consumers towards the service they experienced the last time they shopped online, both pre- and post-purchase.

The survey found that 33% of online shoppers experienced problems during their last online shopping experience including ‘couldn’t find an answer to a question’, ‘insufficient product information’ and ‘a slow website’.  

For e-tailers the message from the research is clear – if an online shopper facing problems it stimulates them to search out alternatives, said Aspect.

“To ensure sites are ‘stickier’ and fewer issues arise during the purchasing process, e-tailers must consider investing in improved information, self-service (pre- and post-purchase), live help (voice and webchat) and outbound contact facilities,” said Mark King, senior vp, Europe and Africa, Aspect.

“They should also re-assess when and how they use different communications channels (email, phone, web chat etc.) to ensure both their objectives, and those of their customers, are optimally met.”

Key findings:

  • 10% of online shoppers surveyed had to contact e-tailers post-purchase to return items, check on deliveries, or change orders, all of which are potentially avoidable zero value calls
  •  97% of shoppers reported they had abandoned online shopping baskets at some time, ranging from CDs to furniture. Shoppers cited a long list of reasons for abandonment from ‘unable to access live support’ to ‘delivery charges’ and ‘insufficient product information’
  • On a more positive note, 86% of shoppers said they were ‘happy’ or ‘very happy’ with their last shopping experience; and when shoppers did have to contact e-tailers post-purchase, 94% were able to resolve their issue(s) on the first contact

While the survey paints a picture of an industry fast coming to terms with the needs of its customers it also highlights areas of concern, especially when it comes to (1) the high percentage of online shoppers that have abandoned shopping baskets, (2) the large number of online shoppers who need to communicate with e-tailers post purchase, and (3) a lack of live service support, especially at weekends and in the evenings, said Aspect.

King said: “Despite this, the cost of supplying an agent-based channel for customers is costly and is unsustainable, and e-tailers must embrace multi-channel customer contact in the same way as they have embraced multi-channel retailing.”

Aspect recommends:

  • In response to the huge industry issue of abandoned online shopping baskets, Aspect advocates the use of ‘cart recovery’ (or ‘re-marketing’) techniques – and urges e-tailers to contact online shoppers by email within 24 hours and not normally before four hours after abandonment, so as not to “spook “ the customer
  • A basket containing a CD may warrant an email or an SMS, but a suite of furniture or other high value goods may warrant an outbound call
  • By so doing, Aspect claims between 6% and 50% of abandoned baskets can be recovered. To deliver effect cart recovery services, Aspect urges e-tailers to make additional investments in fully integrated outbound telephony, email and SMS systems and services to handle the increased volume of (and multi-modal form of) today’s customer contacts, as well as to ensure their back and front office operations are optimally linked
  • Aspect also challenges e-tailers to reconsider their use of different communications channels, claiming online shoppers are often forced down the email route because it is the cheapest option for e-tailers rather than the preferred choice for shoppers. When asked ‘How do you prefer an e-tailer to communicate with you?’ 77% of shoppers selected email, 14% the phone, and 8% web chat. 

King said: “Our survey revealed, however, currently e-tailers make 92% of purchase confirmations by email. And when asked how they prefer to communicate with e-tailers, just 52% of shoppers opted for email, while 31% selected the phone, and 16% web chat.

“There is a role for higher value ‘live agent’ voice and web chat services in key service areas: such as proactively calling valued customers to update statuses and alert them to issues (even before they become aware of them), and offering web chat assistance to customers struggling with the online shopping process. 

“We believe this will not only help reduce the number of abandoned shopping baskets but also reduce the number of unnecessary customer calls caused by individuals making incorrect purchasing choices because of a lack of information, or because they misunderstood an instruction.  

“Call avoidance should not be seen as a negative position. By informing the customer before they ask the question is actually an improvement to customer service and to consumer perception of a company or brand, which costs less than the traditional inbound call centre operations of the past,” he said.