Bicycle and car parts retailer Halfords has conducted some research that found over a third of their customers had checked the company website before even entering the store. Customers are checking to see if a product is stocked, store opening hours, and other relevant information that can make their shopping experience a little easier before venturing out.
Shoppers at Argos have a similar option. You can locate a product, order for it to be delivered, or check how many are in stock at a particular store, and even pay for it from the website indicating that you would like to come over later to collect it at your local store.
Websites have become more and more integrated into the shopping experience and are far from the model of a few years back when most high street stores saw their own website as a competitor – because even if the group gets the money, it’s still not going through that individual store and enlarging the manager’s bonus.
The Halfords research is interesting because two thirds of customers said they would like a way to leave feedback about their shopping experience. We have all become used to leaving feedback on eBay when purchasing via an auction, or Tripadvisor after staying in a hotel, but now consumers want to leave comments about their experience buying bicycle tyres.
Mostly this would be related to customer service. “I had a great experience at Halfords, knowledgeable staff, really helpful” are the kind of comments you might expect. So the public are now expecting a retail brand to offer a forum where feedback about their own service can be expressed, and presumably if negative feedback is given, the retailer cannot just delete it for fear the complaining member of the public would then just write the same comments on a public blog.
This research demonstrates that consumers are expecting to be able to find information about a store that includes the experience of other customers – not just opening hours. And then there will be a facility for them to add their own experiences after they visit.
Some retailers might be horrified by this expectation, but all it requires is transparency and a willingness to share public opinion. The bottom line is that the public expect great customer service and any company not capable of offering it will find the public writing about them online somewhere – it all comes down to looking after your customers.