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Omnichannel Retailers Should Make These ‘High-Impact’ Upgrades

In an era when major retailers are considering splitting their store and e-commerce operations in the wake of Saks’ bold move, consumers are still demanding consistent cross-channel experiences.

But catering to shopper expectations is challenging in many ways. For example, while 71 percent of retailers clearly feature their promotions and deals across channels, only 25 percent offer any kind of expert assistance, potentially missing out on sales if shoppers still can’t find what they want, Incisiv and Genesys found in a new report.

The duo’s 2022 Omnichannel Customer Service Benchmark Index highlights apparel brands like Ralph Lauren, Levi’s and Lane Bryant among 16 retailers that lead the way in adopting differentiated experiences, according to Incisiv, a digital transformation insights firm, and Genesys, which focuses on the customer experience.

The report called out 16 retailers, including department stores Macy’s and Belk, luxury sellers Coach and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as mass merchants including Walmart and Target. Additional leaders named include Ace Hardware, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, REI, Sephora and Ulta Beauty.

Whether shoppers are in the discovery process or the purchase stage, or interacting with customer service, the 102 benchmarked retailers have a back-and-forth track record on delivering a top omnichannel experience.

“The past two years have impacted humanity in deep and transformative ways, including what we, as shoppers, value. Retailers will have to build and refine capabilities to serve these new expectations,” said Amarjot Mokha, chief operating officer, Incisiv. “Our goal with the Omnichannel Customer Service Index is to help retailers identify high-impact improvement opportunities based on a nuanced view of what drives superior customer service. Adopting foundational and advanced capabilities can help retailers improve their digital performance KPIs and competitive strategy by promptly adapting to consumers’ omnichannel service needs.”

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Department stores excel at discovery

For all the heat they’ve taken in recent years, department stores lead the pack when it comes to supporting consumer discovery. For example, 73 percent of department stores offer search history visibility online, compared to just 34 percent of retail as a whole. All the department stores analyzed have agents available to assist with product information during the shopping experience, ahead of the 82 percent for the industry at large.

These agents are vital because much of the support throughout the phase leaves much to be desired across the board. While as many as 90 percent of shoppers research products online before planning an in-store purchase, only 30 percent say they are satisfied with the support offered during discovery. And just 32 percent have good things to say about the search and filtering options on retail websites.

Of the top 12 omnichannel customer service experience leaders, three were department stores (Macy’s, Nordstrom and Dillards), with fashion companies like Forever 21 and Coach also making the list.

Purchasing, fulfillment options still need advancing

Shoppers need a friction-free purchasing experience in order to keep coming back. Grocers and general merchandise retailers offer the most advanced ordering and fulfillment capabilities such as the ability to contact order pickers, flexible delivery and pickup options, expedited delivery and real-time order tracking.

Grocers lead the way in buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) adoption at 83 percent. Of note, 85 percent of shoppers intend to increase their usage of BOPIS and curbside pickup in the near future.

During the purchase phase, 93 percent of retailers offer self-service options for order tracking, the Incisiv survey said. Yet at the same time, only 25 percent offer post-purchase order modification, even if the product hasn’t shipped yet.

As many as 20 percent of shoppers say they would abandon their cart if the checkout process is perceived as lengthy (as in more than three steps), so retailers must account for this expectation. And 47 percent of shoppers say that they find it difficult to get answers to their post-purchase queries, such as adding or deleting items, or learning about return policies.

Macy’s, Belk, Target, Ralph Lauren and Dick’s Sporting Goods were the five apparel sellers recognized as leaders in the purchase phase, with grocery retailers such as Albertsons, BJ’s, Kroger, H-E-B, Publix and Whole Foods also getting a shoutout.

Engagement modules such as chat have room for improvement

The customer engagement and service interactions, which can occur throughout and after the discovery and purchase stages, is a make-or-break for both the online and in-store shopping experiences. Eighty-nine percent of shoppers are more likely to make another purchase after a positive customer service experience, while 43 percent say they plan to increase store visits just to return an order.

Most retailers have adapted to the new age of returns, with 71 percent of merchants offering the option to return online purchases in physical stores. However, the seamlessness between stores and online doesn’t yet extend to individual interactions, specifically chat. Only 5 percent of retailers make their chat history available across channels, and just 50 percent of agents are aware of the products shoppers added to their digital cart.

Those low numbers come as a surprise given that 80 percent of retailers have adopted some form of live chat, the survey said.

Incisiv recognized 19 leaders in omnichannel customer engagement and service, including Nike, Walmart, Target, Lane Bryant, Levi’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s and J.Crew.

To develop the report, Incisiv generated insights from more than 60,000 shoppers, and examined retailers across eight categories, including apparel and accessories, consumer electronics, department stores, general merchandise, grocery, health and beauty, home improvement and furniture and other specialty retailers.

As part of the analysis, the company collected data from 2,500 global consumer industry executives, and performed its own experience audits in stores and websites across 500 retailers.

Table stakes vs. differentiation is the key battle

The Incisiv assessment methodology spans 110 measurable attributes across three areas of retailers’ service experience, including discovery, purchase, and 360-degree services. Attributes are categorized as “table stakes” or “differentiating,” based on their impact on key digital performance metrics such as average order value (AOV), conversion, customer satisfaction and traffic.

For example, a table-stakes experience during the purchase stage would be in-store inventory visibility, while a differentiating experience would be having the option to complete a purchase transaction using live customer service. During discovery, the clear visibility of product categories and other home page elements would be table stakes, whereas retailers could differentiate by enabling customer service teams to assist product teams in real time.

And for 360-degree services, telephone-based customer service, live chat and the option to manage loyalty memberships are all considered table stakes. But Incisiv says that to truly stand out, retailers should deliver personalized communication within the customer service experience, or make more shopper information available to the customer service rep, such as which products are in a shopper’s cart and a history of the products they’ve browsed.

Across the board, Incisiv highlighted 34 of the 102 retailers as “challengers” to the 16 leaders. While the challengers typically offer a seamless omnichannel experience, they often lack the depth and coverage of the leaders’ experiences.

More than half fall either into the followers (30) and laggards (22) brackets, with the former offering basic omnichannel customer service experiences without much differentiation or depth, while the latter is severely lacking omnichannel customer service experiences on a basic table-stakes level.