3 ways internet retailers can win back customer satisfaction

What’s an appropriate way to describe customer attitudes toward the retail industry during the COVID-19 pandemic? In a word: dissatisfied.

Per the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s (ACSI) special COVID-19 retail study, customer satisfaction slid in four of the five retail industries, based on surveys collected from April 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020.

When held up against the ACSI’s 2019-2020 Retail Report, one industry had the most alarming fall from grace: internet retail.

As Americans retreated to their homes at the onset of the pandemic and began to purchase more goods online, internet retailers were placed under a microscope. And consumers weren’t entirely happy with what they saw.

No internet retailers saw satisfaction rise during this six-month span, and the industry overall torpedoed 4.9% to an ACSI score of 77 (out of 100). While this figure was still higher than the other retail industries – department and discount stores, specialty retail stores, supermarkets — the gap has shrunk considerably.

But it’s not too late for the industry to get back in consumers’ good graces. Here are three things internet retailers can do to satisfy customers.

1. Invest in mobile and website user experience

From April 2020 to September 2020, every customer experience benchmark in the internal retail industry declined.

Mobile quality had the high score of 84 despite a 2% drop overall. Mobile reliability fell 2% as well, to a score of 83.

Site performance deteriorated 2% to a score of 81, while navigation declined 4% to 80. Clarity was worse, down 5% to 78, and the level of support was poorer, slumping 4% to 75.

These overall scores were reflected in the individual retailers. For instance, Amazon took major hits in navigation and customer support. Wayfair tumbled in clarity, as did Apple, Target, and Dell. Groupon and Apple both lagged substantially in site performance.

Customers expect to have a high-quality user experience online. If anything, these scores reflect the internet retail industry’s inability to offer one.

2. Prepare for contingencies

Back in March, Amazon told customers that, due to coronavirus-related demand, certain popular brands and household items were out of stock. The online juggernaut also noted that there would be delivery delays as well.

“In the short term this is having an impact on how we serve our customers,” announced Amazon. “We are working around the clock with our selling partners to ensure availability on all of our products, and bring on additional capacity to deliver all of your orders.”

As it turns out, these issues weren’t limited to just Amazon; they were happening across the entire internet retail industry.

Over a six-month period from April 2020 to September 2020, customer satisfaction with internet retailers’ variety tumbled 5% to an ACSI score of 80, inventory dropped 4% to 79, and shipping decreased 4% to 78. Store speed also took a hit, falling 3% to 83.

Countless internet retailers fell victim to these same hiccups. Like with Amazon, customers had problems with Wayfair and Apple’s inventory, with Apple’s variety, and with shipping for Wayfair, Apple, Overstock, and Lowe’s.

No one could’ve foreseen the pandemic coming. Yet, the lesson is clear: Internet retailers must always be prepared for surges in demand – especially if purchasing items online becomes the primary — if not only — means for consumers to get the goods they need.

Consider how to ensure your inventory is well stocked and deliveries arrive on time. Maybe that includes working with multiple vendors so you’re not relying on a single company for all your needs. The more you plan ahead, the better positioned you’ll be in the event something goes awry.

3. Target your biggest areas of improvement

Amazon is a unique case study.

Not only did it fall from the top spot in the industry, but it also experienced the largest decline in the retail space, dropping 7% to an ACSI score of 77. Yet its sales remained through the roof – up 60% year over year between May and June, according to Facetus.

It’s understandable that internet retailers want what Amazon has. After all, it accounts for 38% of all U.S. commerce sales, per eMarketer data from May 2020. But, trying to beat Amazon at its own game isn’t the answer.

That’s why internet retailers need to look at themselves in the mirror and focus on their own deficiencies, rather than simply picking and choosing areas to improve based on the competition. Walmart went up in navigation and store speed, yet still ranked toward the bottom of the industry with an ACSI score of 73. Sears’ shipping improved, but overall, it was the bottom of the barrel at 72.

Internet retailers must pay attention to what customers want most, and then work to give it to them. Right now, support (75), site recommendations (75), reviews (77), clarity (78), and shipping (78) are the areas customers are least satisfied with. As an online retailer, ask yourself: What can I do to fix these pain points? Then, get to work.

Online shopping demand isn’t going anywhere

In 2020, online shopping went from a convenience to a necessity. That demand is not going anywhere. People might not have to shop online, but many will continue to do so. Which means that microscope isn’t going anywhere.

Internet retailers failed to meet customer expectations over the six-month period of April 2020 to September 2020. These three pieces of advice can help them turn things around.

The ACSI has a new retail report coming out at the end of February. We’ll know soon enough if the industry was able to bounce back.

David VanAmburg is the managing director of the American Customer Satisfaction Index where he has spent over 20 years researching customer satisfaction and helping companies improve their customer experience

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