Derek O'CarrollDerek O'CarrollJanuary 29, 2020


With Brightpearl’s latest study on the US retail market indicating that just over half of retailers (53 percent) have invested in loyalty program software in the last twelve months, and 59 percent have invested in customer service technology, it’s clear that customer retention is a high priority in a fickle purchasing environment.

But how can retailers ensure the retention of their customers when there is often an array of price competitive alternatives on offer? And what can they do to safeguard their existing client base against the allure of a better offer?

Well, it begins with your own staff, and it ends with your competition – read on for some stellar strategies on how to keep your customers happy!

Invest in training, not just software

This was one of the more surprising findings from Brightpearl’s Retail Tech Stack report on software investment in the retail industry: 35 percent of respondents indicated that someone with no direct expertise in software deployments or technology roll-outs, are cited as responsible for the implementation of new technology.

As far as statistics go, this is a little ludicrous. How can you provide your customer with the best buying experience possible if you are unsure on how to best integrate and utilise your own software?

Time is valuable, particularly in a work environment that demands longer hours and constant personal development, however, in this instance it is really a case of short term investment to make long term gains. Prioritise staff education and training now, and it will pay dividends in the future. Your customers will enjoy a seamless experience and your workforce will be well equipped to handle any technical issues.

Reward loyalty

In excess of half of all US retailers have allocated spend for loyalty software in the past 12 months, but what do these loyalty programs look like? They can be anything from a branded, points based app to an e-voucher campaign that provides discounts for a predetermined amount of spend. We like to be rewarded for our loyalty.

That being said, the retail sector is in the midst of a change, consumers are now acutely aware of the environmental and social impact of their purchasing decisions, and for the most part, want to act more responsibly. Therefore, it is imperative that retailers give them this option, if you provide an environmentally responsible product and an ethical brand that gives back to the community, your customer will feel infinitely better about shopping with you.

Be transparent

Customers appreciate transparency, they want to know the specifics of the brand that they are buying from. In particular, whether or not the materials are ethically sourced, do they use biodegradable packaging, do they have any charitable or sustainability initiatives?

Therefore you need to make your brand and your staff accountable, no matter your product, there are always things you can do to reduce the negative impact that your business is having. Start with simple fixes like in house initiatives to reduce your carbon footprint and outreach programmes to give back to the community.

Go beyond the buy button

Brightpearl found that on average, 77 percent of negative reviews arise from issues that occur after the buy button. Don’t let poor organisation of your back office let you down, because this post-buy process can be beneficial for your company and your client. The fulfilment and delivery process can be an excellent time to send targeted, personalised adverts and updates to your customer when they are at their most engaged with your product.

However, if you don’t have a proper handle on where their order is, then it certainly isn’t the best time to engage with them, investing in the right back office solution will help to eradicate the mistakes that lead to this type of negative feedback.

And finally, keep tabs on the competition, a little obvious perhaps, but there is a world of data at your disposal. Check what your competitors are doing and where the industry as a whole is spending. Identify the areas in which you are lagging behind or could be leading the way, and make use of your budget to keep your core customer happy!

Derek O'CarrollDerek O'CarrollJuly 23, 2019


Are online ratings and reviews important to your business?

They should be, as the influence of online product reviews on consumers continues to grow.

Recently, Brightpearl conducted a survey of consumers, which reveals just how much we now rely on online ratings and reviews.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Most people relate strongly to the growing review culture. These days, not many of us would book a stay in a hotel or make a reservation at a restaurant we’ve never been to before without first consulting an online review forum, checking the ratings and scrolling through customer feedback.

In increasing numbers, we are now turning to total strangers to read their customer reviews and ratings before buying. Eighty-four percent of shoppers now read online reviews and 46 percent check star ratings before committing to an online purchase – with almost nine-in-10 consumers considering them to be essential to their decision making. As we can see, the review culture is playing an increasingly important and normalised role in our purchasing behaviour, and above all else, informs our decisions on where to stay, where to eat and what to buy.

In today’s modern retail landscape we are all influencers – and we’re all ready and willing to be influenced. But not only do we expect our voices to be heard, we demand that our feedback be acknowledged and acted upon quickly. Our survey reveals that 76 percent of shoppers expect merchants to respond to reviews and one-in-five consumers believe a reply should come within 24 hours.

As connected consumers, we are not as tolerant as we used to be. Our expectations and demands are far greater than ever before and we have a voice and many platforms – from social media to online review websites – where we can express anger or dissatisfaction when we’ve had a poor experience. From the same report, almost two-thirds of us are likely to leave a negative review following a bad experience – with 60 percent having done so within the last year.

Shoppers are increasingly volatile and unforgiving and it is within this environment that some retailers are losing their grip on their online feedback. Fifty percent of retailers think that poor reviews are getting worse and 38 percent admit that they do not know how to best deal with negative reviews, according to the study by Brightpearl. It also takes just five (on average) poor recent reviews to halt most shoppers from buying from a retailer or brand, which demonstrates the sway that consumer feedback can have on potential new customers.

The other danger to merchants failing to get to grips with their online feedback is the money they are leaving on the table from lost sales opportunities. The study shows that the average difference in revenue between a 3-star and 5-star rated merchant is 33 percent. This means some businesses with average ratings are likely missing out on many potential orders which are being lost, never to be recovered. Because our trust is fragile – and the options are many – it takes very little to be discouraged from buying from an online merchant.

In today’s consumer era it has become crucial to use reviews and ratings both as a trust symbol and as valuable insight into the areas of the customer journey that require improvement. Indeed, negative reviews should be viewed as an opportunity to improve, not a threat.

Star wars: Just five poor reviews can put off customers from a purchase

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the study is the revelation that it’s notably the level of service we receive that attracts the most vocal negative attention from customers — whether it’s items not arriving on time or at all, to a lack of delivery updates or canceled purchases. In fact, 77 percent of all 1-3 star feedback left by customers are related to problems or issues that occur after the customer clicks ‘buy’.

It’s vital to determine the specific stages where customers are evaluating and talking about their experiences and whether there are gaps or issues that need to be addressed. Businesses then need to consider new processes, technologies, or renewed investment in their operations to fix the failures driving poor feedback. 

Without the right mechanics in place to support quick and seamless service at every touchpoint, including handling orders, shipping and logistics, or to manage hassle-free returns, businesses will continue to fumble the ball in the end zone – the operations of the business. The last impression is key, and if this isn’t optimised, businesses will continue to find themselves attracting poor feedback, driving away potential shoppers and leaving a long-lasting stain on their reputation.

It’s not all bad news though. The technology now exists to not only be able to capture all those reviews and ratings but to also enable the whole organisation to act upon them, closing those gaps and improving the entire Customer Experience.

As Brightpearl’s report shows, a positive review – or 30 – can make a huge difference in the choices consumers make when it comes to selecting a brand or retailer. More positive reviews enhance a brand’s reputation with buyers above the competition, leading to increased conversion, retention, and spend.

To help get the most out of online reviews, businesses need to consider solutions which allow them to fulfil the modern expectations of customers – from same-next day delivery options to real-time shipping and incredible response times. With a great reviews strategy and the right technology in place, firms can focus on earning the five-star feedback needed to capture the attention – and the business – of today’s online shopper.

Now back to my original question – how important are ratings and reviews to your business?

Derek O'CarrollDerek O'CarrollMarch 12, 2019


We now exist in a world where technological innovation is empowering customers to expect more from the brands they deal with, to switch when they’re not happy or satisfied, and share their negative experiences online.

Results from a recent study show that Millennials can be particularly hard to please. Over two-fifths (45 percent) admit to being less loyal to brands when compared to a year ago, and are quicker to abandon companies that don’t meet expectations.

Customers today have a lot of choice and an array of products to choose from, and so it’s understandable that many brands are struggling to get customers to stick around for the long haul. An enormous 76 percent of customers report that it’s now easier than ever to take their business elsewhere whilst a quarter of Millennials would change where they buy goods, based on the shopping experience. Millennials are also the group most unlikely to return to a brand if they have a bad shopping experience.

Shaping buying journeys for the Millennial audience

Brands must work harder to attract buyers and to encourage repeat purchases, particularly from the younger demographic. The question is: ‘are millennials worth the effort?’

The answer is undoubtedly ‘yes’;. Millennials – typically aged between 23-38 – are now all grown up. Millennials’ purchasing power also continues to grow – they now make more online purchases than Generation X or Baby Boomers, and so an argument can now be made that brands should ensure the happiness of these shoppers as a priority over every other demographic.

The key to retail success really could lie in keeping millennials happy. While it’s perhaps no surprise that online fashion purchases are dominated by younger shoppers, every sector, from home and DIY to electrical, health and beauty, or grocery has a significant and growing audience of Millennial buyers – with a set of behaviours, needs, and expectations that are very different to other demographics. If brands want to capture the attention and long-term business of the younger shopper, the way to foster and maintain loyalty needs to change.

Familiarity is a thing of the past

One way to actively build brand loyalty is through superior Customer Experience. Shoppers will no longer stick with a company that they know but delivers sub-par service. Just because they’ve purchased from a brand for several years doesn’t inspire the same shopper affinity it may have in the past – particularly with younger age groups.

This should give retailers and brands serious food for thought – especially given that over three-fifths (61 percent) of consumers have encountered issues when buying goods online in the last 12 months, and can be vocal and unforgiving about poor purchasing experiences. In addition, eight out of 10 Millennials will never buy anything without first reading a review, which means brands are setting themselves up to alienate or lose customers if they’re not able to own the entire end-to-end experience to an appropriately high level.

No-brainer technology

Great Customer Experience at every touchpoint, from discovery to delivery and beyond – including outstanding user experiences, same-next day delivery options, real-time shipping and customer-focused returns models – will be key to winning or losing customers, particularly Millennials who are the most sensitive to issues at any stage of the buying journey.

This means brands need to identify and fix gaps in the buying journey that could negatively affect a customer’s experience – and damage brand loyalty. Long-term, this will be crucial to boosting repeat sales, especially for fickler customers in the younger age segments.

The good news? There are systems that can help brands make the buying journey as smooth and effortless as possible. Key to this is an automated back-office platform that adds speed and efficiency into the retail operation and allows for enhanced customer service at every touchpoint. Brands should also use systems that record customer and product data from one single hub, in real time. These insights can identify pain points and guide the changes that will help them to create more tailored and seamless experiences that are in-line with the expectations of younger shoppers.

Brands should also look to focus on the gaps that most frustrate Millennials, such as issues related to deliveries and returns. This is the area where things are really going wrong, and this ‘last impression’ can do the most damage to a customer’s brand perception.

However, it’s worth noting that 10% of Millennial shoppers are willing to pay more for products and services – if they’re guaranteed a seamless transaction. So, brands that do get the end-to-end experience right may benefit not only from increased sales and loyalty – but also from increased wallet capture.

Finally, and to paraphrase Mark Larson OF KPMG, Baby Boomers are now appreciating the experience and convenience of buying online, so, to a degree, there is a little Millennial in each of us. By focusing on superior experiences now, brands can meet the pressing needs of their most demanding customers (Millennials) but get ahead of the growing expectations of older demographics – meaning they can keep all shoppers coming back to them time and again.

Derek O'CarrollDerek O'CarrollDecember 11, 2018


2018 has been a turbulent year in the retail sector – some of the key trends and developments that many thought would come to pass have yet to gain widespread traction, while others have definitely come to the forefront.

Retailers are under increasing pressure to deliver. Customers have more options than ever to choose from and their expectations are continuing to soar. This means that 2019 will bring even more hurdles – as well as opportunities – for brands and businesses.

Here, we reflect on the retail trends which didn’t come to pass this year – but which might within the next twelve months…

Death of the high street greatly exaggerated…again

Bemoaning the demise of the British high street has become a popular pastime. While the high street continues to be in flux, the reports of its death have been, to borrow from Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated. A number of larger names did find themselves struggling with store closures this year, however independent retail saw in a boon in business, with significantly more shops opening in the first half of 2018 than in the same period last year.

This is not surprising – as shoppers, we’re increasingly looking for individual, stylised brands that resonate with us. For physical retailers, a key differentiator could be the in-store Customer Experience – proving new reasons for customers to visit.

For example, click & collect continues to rise rapidly in the UK, outpacing growth in the online retail channel. Next year, savvy merchants will be considering introducing competitive Click & Collect propositions to drive further footfall into stores.

Voice search gets tongue-tied

2018 saw incremental increases in voice searching, and I believe we’re on the verge of full-scale search revolution – which will happen over the next few years. There are a few strong motivating factors here, including the increased sophistication of voice-recognition systems – Microsoft’s voice recognition software now has an error rate of 5.1 percent, equalling the same rate of its human counterparts. 

Ninety-five percent word recognition is actually the same threshold of accuracy as human speech (Google officially reached this threshold last year, to great excitement). This sheer accuracy of recognition is what will help voice search grow mainstream.

So will ensuring that voice interface technology matches up to conversations that we have every day with human beings. We expect machines to respond in a human way, seamlessly and intuitively, carrying on the exchange. When they don’t, bringing us up short by replying with “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question,” we’re thrown off and turned off.

Retailers must – and will – find a way to capitalise on voice-driven technology and ensure that it can replicate human conversations as this trend starts to take off next year.

Delivering on next-day expectations

In May 2018, the use of next-day delivery services reached record highs, being used for 37 percent of all UK delivered orders. What’s more, it’s expected that 65 percent of retailers will offer same-day delivery by the end of next year.

In 1995, customer expectation on acceptable delivery time was nine days (yes, nine!); in 2018, it’s a mere 24 hours. And customer expectations are about to change again – same-day delivery will be the new normal within 18 months. However, 59 percent of shoppers in the last year have experienced goods not arriving on time. If your business isn’t able to deliver on current delivery expectations, how are you supposed to cope when the timeline shortens again? You won’t.

Many retailers do not have the right systems in place to meet this expectation of instant gratification. This could be a major differentiator for retailers next year and many will have to adapt or fall further behind their competitors.

Those retailers who do step-up and give serious thought to retooling how they invest and operate their supply chain are most likely to remain competitive, as we head into 2019.

A returning problem

Customer buying behaviours are changing all the time. Shoppers are returning 66 percent more items than five years ago, and 30 percent of all products ordered online are returned. This lost revenue costs UK retailers £60bn a year, £20bn of which is generated by items bought over the internet.

In 2018, retailers were expected to wake up and recognise the need to invest in their returns framework, to reduce costs and create stand-out against their competitors. However, this hasn’t happened. Brightpearl found that nearly a quarter of brands admit that returns are the single biggest challenge in managing e-commerce. In addition, 69 percent of retailers still use no technology to manage their returns process. This clearly highlights how retailers themselves are exacerbating the cost and complexity of managing returns.

Poor returns experiences are a major pain point for shoppers and are often driving them to competitor firms. In a Brightpearl study, 30 percent of customers said they’ll abandon an online purchase if no free returns are offered, while a slow returns process is also a major frustration for online shoppers. Consumers say a timeframe of ‘three to five days’ is acceptable for processing returns, but with the average return taking six days to process, retailers need to work hard to reduce this timeline.

In 2019, expect more retailers to embrace technology to both enhance their returns framework and carve out competitive advantage – and the need for efficiency and automation will be crucial to that end.

It’s not personal, yet (cross-channel personalisation)

Creating a seamless path from inspiration to purchase is still a challenge for many retailers using disparate systems. Many are struggling with the ability to serve customers equally across all channels, whether in-store or online. With 73 percent of shoppers using multiple channels during their shopping journey, disjointed Customer Experiences could be ruining shopper satisfaction.

In 2018, we saw some brands becoming much better at offering a complete, omnichannel shopping experience. Some brands, like Net-a-Porter, are merging their digital and physical operations, to create a seamless and consistent customer journey.

Savvy brands understand that the contemporary consumer demands a strong omnichannel approach where service, experience, and products interact. Seamless cross-channel service for customers is vital and having the right systems in place – both on the frontline and operational side – is key to presenting the experience that customers now expect.

While retail didn’t quite crack this in 2018, more brands will begin to make great strides over the next year – the upside is too great to ignore. Forty-three percent of purchases are now influenced by personalised recommendations, so getting this right across all channels could have a dramatic impact on purchasing conversion.

However, the ability to provide omnichannel personal service requires access to all data in one place. Having the right technology – so that all areas of your business have access to a single record for every shopper – will allow businesses to gain deeper insights about their customers. This can be used to better serve, engage with and reward customers on a more personal level.

In conclusion, the one sure bet for 2019 is that the customer will remain king. Therefore, retailers must put shoppers at the heart of everything they do. This includes delivering fast and frictionless experiences at every point of the buying journey.

Investing in technologies that will make day-to-day business operations smoother, and free-up time from back-office activities to focus on customer-driving initiatives will be crucial.

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Customer Experience Magazine is the online magazine packed full of industry news, blogs, features, reports, case studies, video bites and international stories all focusing on customer experience.



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