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Two key learnings for online retailers from Which? survey

Woman shopping online

Two key learnings for online retailers from Which? survey

Consumer advice group Which? has just published its annual ‘Best and worst shops’ survey, and small online stores can take heed from what the big names are doing right and wrong.

The study covers both in-store and online experiences across a range of sectors, and with online shopping having soared under Covid-19, it’s no surprise that e-retail is a significant part of this years’ research. The limited availability of physical stores over the last 18 months also means there has never been a worse time to be named and shamed as one of the worst names for online retail.

We’ve picked two points that stand out from the survey, and that online retailers big and small should look to address:

1. Handle complaints with a human touch

Automation is a big part of online retail, but when something goes wrong, it’s important to make it simple for customers to contact you and give them a helpful, human response to their complaint or query – not a template reply that shows the issue hasn’t been understood.

The highest-rated companies were those that provided a speedy, straightforward and helpful response. Screwfix and Marks & Spencer picked up five stars in all criteria, with e-retail giant Amazon not far behind them in third.

The headline-makers tend to be those at the other end of the table though, where Sports Direct occupies the wooden spoon position. The clothing retailer failed to score more than two stars in any criterion, with The Range and Carphone Warehouse not faring much better.

JD Sports was another company to average just one star, with Wales Online picking up on a customer who was so worn down by the store’s complaints process, they ended up giving up and losing £60. The Daily Record reserves its shame for Carphone Warehouse, where nearly a third of issue-raising customers were left believing the firm didn’t even believe them about their problem.

While a cynic might suggest that these companies benefit financially from grinding down complainants to the point where they accept defeat, it’s not the way to attract repeat customers. In fact, one in five people who had problems with a Sports Direct order told Which? they would be unlikely to shop there again.

2. Time is of the essence

Many media sources have picked up on the results of Which?’s study of grocery retailers, where surprisingly, it was high-end supermarket Waitrose that came out worst for freshness of food.

Of the six food stores where orders where placed, Waitrose items arrived an average of only 8.63 days prior to their “best before” date, more than two days less than top performer Tesco. The mystery shoppers who took part in the research also reported that two meat products ordered from Waitrose looked past their best, despite being within their shelf-life.

Online shoppers expect their goods to be as fresh as they would be in store, so this is a reminder not just of the importance of quick delivery, but also having the inventory management in place to ensure items go out with a good amount of their shelf-life remaining. Clear information on the website is also helpful, with Tesco praised for indicating how long perishable goods should last.

Online retail needs a mixture of human intuition and an information-rich, user-friendly website to succeed. Why not talk to us at Engage Web today about the latter?

John Murray

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