Why retailers should make online customer service an investment priority in 2016

Which trends should retailers be prepared to follow that will drive conversations and conversions in 2016? With so much product information and variety available to customers and so little time for customers to make it to the actual stores, the starting point should be a great online customer experience which does not lack the personal touch brick-and-mortar shops can provide says Phil Adams.

A customer’s perception of your brand starts the minute they walk into a store or open your website. First impressions can make or break a relationship and it’s no longer acceptable to offer a different level of service online to the one you offer in store. In fact, for your customers, ‘shopping online’ doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s simply ‘shopping’, and customers expect the same range, price and service whichever channel they choose. And with 40% of all online sales coming from mobile phones and tablets, there’s the added challenge of providing a consistent level of service across all devices.

It was no surprise that Forbes’ first item on its Top 10 2016 Marketing Trends’ was ‘Embrace the Customer Experience Model’.

Less automation – more people

It is interesting to see that, in spite of all the talk about robots and the ‘rise of the machines’ (according to a survey by researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte, about 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerisation over the next 20 years), many areas of retail customer service are actually doing quite the opposite and seeing the value of personal interaction and of putting people back into the online customer experience.

Online retailers have for example been offering Live Chat for many years now – real people answering customer service queries by text chat, not predictive automated messaging. Now we’re seeing an increasing number of retail businesses offering even greater levels of personal service to online customers with live video chat, being just one tool to enable a more personal level of service and a great first impression for customers visiting your site.

Live video chat means a real person on your website who can be seen by the customer and chat directly to them. It enables retailers to engage with customers online, receive feedback, and gain insight into needs and interests. A live video assistant can help the online shopper with product queries, show the customer around the website, help with the checkout process, and when relevant, can also hold products to the camera so they can be properly viewed.

Some retailers have seen the value video chat adds in terms of higher average order values, fewer abandoned baskets, higher conversions and exceptionally high customer service scores and they have taken it to the next level. DFS for example offers a design service where the live video assistant helps you decide on colour and décor based on the customer giving them a virtual tour of their home via webcam. Bravissimo is offering a bra-fitting service where customers can seek bra-fitting advice using the webcam to discuss correct fitting with the live assistant – a genuine in-store experience being offered to online customers from the comfort of their own home.


There are so many tips, tools and ideas to help us spend budget in 2016 and it can be hard to separate the gimmicks from the sound investments.  But we should never overlook that the customer is in charge and that great customer service can make or break a relationship between a brand and its customers.

People still value the in-store personal touch which you can’t get online. Meeting your customer in person, both in store and online should therefore be high on any retailer’s agenda in 2016.

Video chat will soon be as omnipresent as text chat.  Retailers should perhaps be less concerned about the cost of the investment and more about the cost of doing nothing to improve online customer service in the New Year.

Phil Adams is Client Success Director at Vee24