With restrictive local tier systems and nationwide lockdowns causing retailers to close their doors, the pandemic has forced shoppers online in order to fulfil their buying needs, with 87% of products now being bought via e-commerce sites.
It is estimated that Covid-19 has added £5.3 billion to the size of the UK e-commerce market, with the boom resulting in 25% of the British population planning to switch to online shopping permanently. Due to this shift in buying behaviour, contact centre and customer support specialist, CallCare, has noticed some different and unusual patterns in its customer calls data. From surges in telephone retail support enquiries to changes in peak call times, the ‘stay at home’ directive has had a dramatic impact on customer behaviours. Here are three trends that caught our attention:
1. It’s good to talk
Before the impacts of Covid-19 hit, customer contact by phone was decreasing and instead, replaced by web chat, email and social media messaging. However, with lockdowns causing many people to be starved of human contact, there has been a significant resurgence in the number of calls we typically manage on behalf of our retail clients’ customers.
In our retail support centres, for example, we logged more than double the level of incoming phone enquires during the height of the pandemic, compared to the same period in 2019. Web chat, email and social media message enquiries also increased, but slower in comparison by 40%.
Lockdowns also forced many elderly people to engage in online shopping out of necessity. This also triggered longer than average customer support calls from isolated shoppers in need of someone to talk to or those less comfortable using the internet or web chat.
2. Customer support ‘always on’
In 2020, web customer support became truly 24/7. The blurring boundaries of work and non-work life through home working has removed traditional shopping enquiry peaks. Our call handlers used to experience surges in enquiries during the ‘nine till five’ working day as well as weekends. This has now levelled out, with shopping enquires maintaining consistent levels around the clock.
Despite extending customer service line hours and providing web-based alternatives for support, our experts only saw order support enquires for key trading periods such as Black Friday week rise by up to 30%. This suggests that e-commerce fulfilment has upped its game with less reported problems – such as damages, returns and missed deliveries – even though retailers had to shoulder the burden of higher online sales.
3. Online shopping, the new ‘day out’
Online shopping used to be dominated by impulse purchases, but our customer support logs indicate that lockdowns have led some shoppers to treat it as the new ‘day out’. We’ve also experienced more calls from customers seeking personal advice on which product to buy in addition to a higher rate of complex enquiries.
Now, every day is a shopping day. We’re seeing order enquiries coming in steadily all the time. People are shopping online while working, logging on to shop in the evening and even more often during the night. As a result, more retailers are bringing in outsourced customer service teams to handle the extra load. In particular, we’re seeing high end retailers move their in-store brand experience to online and telephone support, which until now had often lagged behind.
It is unlikely that the boom in e-commerce will be slowing down anytime soon, especially as we’re starting the new year with another lockdown. Retailers should consider outsourcing enquires, as not only is this a cost-effective solution but it also ensures high levels of customer service are maintained.
By Gemma Harding, head of client services at CallCare