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What in the world of B2B can we learn from a holiday retail report? A lot, says ForeSee CEO Larry Freed, whose company released this week its ForeSee Experience Index (FXI): 2013 U.S. Retail Edition.

"The trends of the importance of the customer experience apply to the B2B world every bit as much as in the consumer world," Freed told CMSWire. "All customers, B2B and B2C, demand a great experience, and if they don’t get a great experience they will take their business elsewhere."

A second study released today by Baynote, a provider of personalized customer experience solutions, shows promotions, mobile access, ease-of-use, rating and reviews make or break holiday shopping. Baynote's 4th Annual Holiday Online Shopping Survey, conducted in partnership with the e-tailing group, surveyed 1,000 US online holiday shoppers post Cyber Monday to analyze consumer behavior and buying influencers across various retail channels, including physical stores, e-commerce websites and social networks on both tablets and mobile devices.

Amazon, L.L.Bean at the Top

Let's start with a peek at the Foresee numbers. ForeSee looked at company-level and channel-specific customer satisfaction analysis for the top 100 US retailers across every applicable sales channel including store, contact center, web and mobile. The study included more than 67,600 surveys collected between Nov. 29 and Dec. 17 for the 100 biggest US retailers as reported by the Fortune 500 and the Internet Retailer’s top 100 websites. 

customer experience, What We Can Learn from the Holiday Customer Experience

Retailers who mastered the multichannel experience were the winners in the report, according to Freed, whose company was bought by Answers Corp. last month. 

Amazon was the big winner across multiple channels. It tied L.L.Bean with a score of 90 for the highest company-level satisfaction. The L.L.Bean Website  has scored an 80 or above in web satisfaction eight out of the nine years ForeSee has been measuring, and Amazon has topped the web satisfaction list every year. 

Asked what surprised him most about results, Freed said a number of things.

"In mobile satisfaction the fact that Amazon is a full five points ahead of everyone else is amazing -- the company is literally blowing away the competition in mobile," Freed told CMSWire. "In the company level satisfaction I was pleasantly surprised that L.L.Bean tied Amazon for the top spot. We expect Amazon to be there, but hats off to L.L.Bean. The company is focused on the customer experience, and it is paying huge dividends for them."

The clear loser in the study? Priceline.com came in with the lowest company-level satisfaction (76), as well as the lowest Web satisfaction (75) and mobile satisfaction (73) scores.

Publix Takes Bite of Apple

Apple and its traditionally highly-rated store experiences lost to the supermarket chain Publix Super Markets in store satisfaction. Publix clocked in at 86, three points higher than Apple.

Some other key findings:

  • 53 percent of retailers say merchandise as the main priority affecting in-store purchase, and 35 percent say service
  • While Amazon (88) led the pack for Web satisfaction, some retail sites such as vitacost.com (86), keurig.com (84) and llbean.com (84) are doing well, too. Basspro.com (83) and crateandbarrel.com (80) tied for the most improved sites with seven-point gains in customer satisfaction from last year
  • 57 percent of retailers identify merchandise as the top driver affecting customer web experience, compared to only 7 percent that register price
  • Walmart (80) was the only company to experience a significant increase of more than three points in mobile satisfaction, seeing a five-point improvement from 2012’s score. Amazon was the mobile winner at 87
  • 38 percent of retailers register functionality as the top priority affecting the mobile customer experience, above both merchandise (34 percent) and content (31 percent)
  • Contact Center channel: QVC (88) beat Amazon (85) in Contact Center satisfaction by three points. Costco (85) and O’Reilly Auto Parts (85) tied Amazon in Contact Center satisfaction
  • 55 percent of retailers record knowledge of the customer service representative as the top priority affecting the customer contact center experience

Omnichannel Expectations

Marti Tedesco, senior director of marketing at Baynote, said her company's survey confirms that consumers, driven by millenials, are challenging retailers to deliver an exceptional omnichannel experiences. That means creating a seamless customer experience across all devices that's integrated with in-store shopping activities — and "privacy concerns pale in comparison to wants and needs for convenience," she told CMSWire.

Key findings:

  • Promotions influence the majority of holiday purchases with unconditional free shipping reigning supreme
  • Mobile usage accelerates across the board as branded apps start to exert influence
  • Shoppers demand a streamlined experience typified by easy access to information and integrated online and in-store tools
  • Product ratings and reviews exert the greatest influence on both online and in-store purchases

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Tedesco warned retailers that "consumers have quick trigger fingers." They will leave a website without hesitation if it is difficult to navigate, poorly designed, not optimized for mobile or creates any other headaches.

Why The ForeSee Survey?

We asked Freed of ForeSee to explain the value of post-holiday research.

"ForeSee conducts this research for one simple reason: There is nothing more important to the success of retailers than the customer experience," he said. "Jeff Bezos lives by this philosophy, and so do we. The research not only helps the top 100 retailers see their areas of customer experience strengths and weaknesses, but allows all retailers to see how the world's top retailers are keeping their customers satisfied across channels."

If there were one takeaway from this report, what would it be?

"The value of satisfying your customers cannot be underestimated," Freed said. "Highly satisfied consumers are 71 percent more likely to prefer the company to others compared to dissatisfied consumers; 57 percent more likely to retain loyalty to the retailer; 64 percent more likely to purchase next time they are in the market to buy similar products; and 63 percent more likely to give a positive recommendation."

Companies that improve the customer experience have bigger paybacks than most other investments.

"And remember," Freed said, "you cannot manage what you do not measure, so start with measuring the customer experience and then figure out where to make your investments and get at it as if your life depends on it."

Title image by rmnoa357 (Shutterstock). Exclusive CMSWire infographic by Jackie Jordan.