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Retail survey: Sizing up the competition

Today’s consumer want to shop across channels, but are fashion retailers delivering the right multichannel offer?

In today’s marketplace where consumers lead increasingly busy lives and want to shop with retailers that can fit around their schedules, the need for a strong multichannel proposition is a no-brainer. However, who is really delivering this and how do they stack up against the competition?

This is the subject of a new report by multichannel consultancy Transform. It has reviewed the multichannel propositions of 58 retailers, across these areas – site speed, mobile speed, checkout, customer service, fulfilment, international, mobile, product detail, returns, search, and social – with interesting results.

John Lewis, well-known for its strong multichannel offer, came out on top, scoring 68 out of a possible 100, but was closely followed by or surpassed by the likes of Schuh, House of Fraser and River Island in some of the categories.

Here we take a look at each of the areas to see who excelled.

Checkout

Quick, simple and easy checkout is essential to avoid basket abandonment and losing your sale to a retail competitor. Transform agrees that the process should be as simple and fast as possible, that guest checkout should be enabled, and that taking payment should face as few barriers as possible. So few surprises there.

However, the study found that 31% of retailers do not offer guest checkout currently. Of those that do, it cited Jigsaw as an example of a retailer that puts up lots of registration and data capture barriers. Approaches differ, with Debenhams making it clear why it asks for a user’s email, while Asos uses social network logins, for example.

The study also found that popular payment options, such as PayPal, are still not offered by 24% of the assessed retailers, with Next underperforming by not offering the payment option and by having a long checkout process. The majority of retailer’s checkout process requires four to five clicks at 44%, with only 7% at under three clicks and 31% requiring six, and 17% needing seven or more.

The top scorers in this category were Joules, Superdry and Zara.

Customer service 

With many consumer-retailer interactions now taking place digitally, customer service is arguably more important because retailers don’t have the luxury of face-to-face interactions. This makes replicating service levels important to ensure repeat custom.

Most of the assessed retailers offer a ‘contact us’ telephone option at 90%, with even more offering an ‘email us’ option at 95%. However, this suddenly falls down when it comes to ‘chat now’ functions, with just 12% offering this. This is perhaps surprising, considering the immediacy with which consumers expect to be served. Added to this, only 21% offer a 24-hour customer service.

Retailers must also ensure they fully interact and engage socially when it comes to service enquiries, particularly for millennials.

The joint top three performers in this category were Burberry, House of Fraser and Schuh. They were followed by Burton, Littlewoods, Next and Wallis.

Fulfilment

The study found that when it comes to standard pricing retailers have now either gone one of two ways, ‘free’ at 25% or £3.99 at 52%, though some are above this. Footwear retailers including Schuh, Office and LK Bennett have a £5 minimum spend for standard delivery, but a much greater 28% see £50 as the minimum threshold, though luxury player Net-a-Porter has a minimum of £200. However, a significant number, 15%, do not offer standard delivery.

Five days is the average waiting time for standard delivery at 44%, though 7% deliver in one day, and around 26% deliver within three.

There is a lot of competition around next day delivery. Peak shopping online is between 7pm-10pm, however 49% have an afternoon 2pm-6pm cut-off, and 11% have a lunchtime cut-off, highlighting the challenges in facilitating later cut-offs, says Transform. Though some retailers, including Next, have pushed their cut-off as late as 10pm. When it comes to delivery costs for next day, 30% charge £5 or less, while 37% charge between £5 and £7, while some do not offer it at all.

Unsurprisingly, the study shows that click-and-collect has come to the fore. Transform says during peak trading 56% of John Lewis’s orders were collected via the service, and that for many it is in excess of 35%, with many above the 50% mark. Overall, 72% of retailers offer the service.

The top performer in fulfilment was Superdry, followed closely by All Saints, Burton, Littlewoods, Next, Schuh, and Very.

International support

The study found that an increasing number of retailers, particularly at the premium end of the market, have China specific sites, while Russia is less well supported. For example, 63% of retailers deliver to China, versus 43% that deliver to Russia.

Transform says that certain retailers are looking at how to engage certain markets, and cites Burberry, which allows Brazilian shoppers to browse in English but then complete transactions in a live-chat function, and Harvey Nichols, which asks all non-UK users to contact customer services.  

When it comes to delivery, Clarks and Superdry offer free international shipping, All Saints is free to Europe, and three of the Arcadia brands are free to the US (Miss Selfridge, Wallis and Evans). However, some charge much more, such as LK Bennett, which charges £20 for delivery to Europe. Delivery times vary by market, but in the US five days is normal, whereas in Australia it can be longer.

Only 51% of retailers offer country specific fulfilment propositions, and just 52% offer country specific websites.

The top retailers for international support were Burberry and Superdry, followed by Clarks and Next.

Mobile support

Mobile has been a big focus for the fashion market of late, with 40% of sales coming from the channel. The study found that 88% have a responsive website, versus 75% that have at least one app. An iTunes platform app is used by 59%, while 41% have an android app, and 86% have location based services built into their apps. However when it comes to mobile site speed, one third scored less than 60 out of 100, suggesting improvement is needed in this area.

The top performer here was JD Sports, followed by Abercrombie & Fitch, John Lewis, Net-a-Porter, River Island, Topshop and Burton.

Product detail pages (PDP)

Improved product detail is required to improve sales and reduce returns, and the best examples will include zoom, 360, and video functions, as well as having clear sizing information.

However, surprisingly video remains uncommon at just 15% that do have it on their websites, though there are some notable exceptions, such as Asos.

Transform cites Net-a-Porter as a good example of PDP, with extensive imagery, as well as encouraging social sharing and offering Chinese social media site Weibo as a posting destination. The multichannel consultancy also describes Schuh’s PDP as “exemplary” for its information content, including details regarding delivery and returns.

The top performers here were French Connection and Schuh, followed by John Lewis, Littlewoods, Topshop, Wallis and White Stuff.

Returns

Returns remain a challenge for online fashion retail, where consumers can’t touch and try on clothes before buying.

However, a free returns policy is widespread at 91%, with 76% allowing returns to store in order to drive incremental sales. CollectPlus, whereby consumers can return to convenience stores and a range of other locations, is also a popular returns method at 52% that offer the service.

Where many fall down, however, is making the returns process clear in the PDP, with only 26% doing so. Schuh is again cited for its strong 365 days returns offer, but it also doesn’t make it that obvious that the service is free, says Transform.

Search

Transform’s study found that search still has some way to go. It found that searching by size, colour and brand is now almost universal, but that few allow for users to search by material.  

Of those assessed, 48% show search history, 50% use auto-suggest in the search field, while 44% add pictures to this option. The study also found that most retailers focus on using pictures to sell, with users able to switch between larger pictures or ‘quick-looks’ to find product.

The top performer in this category was Schuh, followed by John Lewis, Asos, Blue Inc, Littlewoods and Very.

Social

This is a key focus for fashion retail with global brands that appeal to younger consumers, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, have a larger following. The top performers when it comes to social are Topshop, Asos, H&M, Net-a-Porter, and New Look. 

Case study: John Lewis comes out on top

John Lewis multichannel

John Lewis came out on top overall and performed well across all categories

Joe Tarragano, retail practice director at Transform

Joe Tarragano retail director Transform

Joe Tarragano, retail practice director at Transform

With an expanding range of fulfilment options, channels and global markets, differentiating your brand based on a profound understanding of your customer is key. We see this reflected in our research with variations around conscious customer, commercial and operational choices.

The report identified several missed opportunities for retailers.

Only 12% currently offer a click-to-chat option on their website despite consumer research indicating this is increasingly important and that reducing friction can also drive increased revenues.

And although PayPal is now widely available, 24% still choose not to offer this as a payment option. While the commercials need working out, customers clearly favour PayPal and similar one-click payment options.

When it comes to fulfilment, there’s evidence that competition is easing off on pricing, even if cut-offs and options continue to expand, with standard delivery typically around £3.99 (52% of retailers) and 25% having some minimum spend limits in place before free delivery is available.

Click-and-collect continues its rise, but the lead-time varies substantially. Next-day is offered by 26% offer while a further 26% have a long promise of seven days or more, illustrating the very real commercial and operational issues to make it work profitably. One impact of click-and-collect is the reduced focus on enabling evening delivery, with only 17% of retailers offering this.

Knowing the benchmarks is helpful but retailers need to understand where to match and where to exceed these, based on the specific expectations of their customers, to make that work for their business. This is where the complexity lies.

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