24. May 2024

Online Retail UK: Competitive Retailer Benchmarking

Since 2020, the share of retail sales that takes place on online platforms has been steadily increasing. With this, retailers are looking to bring the in-store experience online. In online retail, customers are on your website looking for an experience. They are there to learn about your brand, interact with your retailers and engage with the website features and not just to make a purchase. The richer the customer experience on the retailer’s website, the better. The more engaging and interactive the customers’ interaction with the website is, the higher the chance they’ll come back for more. As a brand, it is important to align the needs of your customers with the capabilities of your retailer partners.

eCommerce now plays a part in each part of the consumer journey. This means, no matter how impressive the products are, it takes more to succeed in online retail when the internet offers users endless shelves with endless options. Thus, mapping the customer journey is the best way to better understand your customers’ needs and see how your retail partners are serving these needs. To do that, you can use the general five stages of the customer journey in e-commerce as a guide.

Customer Journey Stages in Online Retail

Here is a breakdown of the 5 stages and how they affect eCommerce features that your retail partners should offer.

Phase 1: Awareness

This is when users become aware of a need. Brands should focus on generating awareness that they offer solutions to address this need. For retailers, this means setting up their site search and navigation to support discoverability. This applies to both products as well as useful content. In turn, this stage gives retailers a chance to learn what new consumers need from your website and what they are looking for. Future marketing strategies can be shaped based on this information.

Phase 2: Consideration

In this stage, users are looking for information to answer specific questions or looking to understand their options. From a brand’s perspective, this means making your product titles and primary images as descriptive as possible. For retailers, this stage involves determining how to reduce bounce rates on primary web pages and increase prospects’ browsing activity. For this, pages and behavior flow have to be structured to lead users from page to page in an intuitive and engaging way.

Phase 3: Decision

In this phase, there is no purchase yet. Either a wish list or a shopping cart will be created by the customer. The time is probably ripe to introduce a new advertising channel to the mix at this stage. Brands can also participate in any reminder emails offered by the retailer. So, remind users of the process they have begun and share more information about the products. This will increase the likelihood of them purchasing in the future.

Phase 4: Purchase

It is during this phase that users convert into buyers. For brands it means that working with retailers to make sure your product images, descriptions, etc. are always up to date. Plus, ensuring that product availability is always at its optimum. For retailers, this means creating engaging product pages that support different user journeys and making the checkout process as painless as possible.

Phase 5: Involvement

Your final goal in online retail is to encourage your new customers to return and engage with your brand again. Therefore, online retail businesses should begin developing long-term relationships with new customers and recognizing opportunities to improve their services. Keeping your customers returning to your store can also be achieved by establishing a loyalty program. For brands, this means identifying opportunities to participate in the retailers’ newsletters and loyalty programs.

Online Retail Benchmarking: Determining what good looks like

Every retailer is different, every market and sector is different. With this being the case, how can we understand if a certain retail platform has good features or whether the retailer is average or advanced? This is where competitive benchmarking plays a role. Comparing their results between similar retailers can provide you with insights on how they perform in their own market context. The purpose of benchmarking goes beyond gathering data. Data from the benchmarking study also helps brands gather useful insights on which retailer features they can leverage. Similarly, brands can also understand retailer limitations so that they can create more informed trade terms with them.

Competitive Benchmarking UK: Online Retailers Asos, Very & Next

Watersky Digital benchmarks retailers in various sectors regularly. In this context, we have evaluated three major online retailers in the UK. Players that retail fashion, beauty as well as other categories including home goods.

The analysis considers retailer capabilities that serve all 5 stages of the customer journey. Everything from product discovery to driving up basket sizes on a given platform. Doing this allows us to highlight where each retailer excels and where they have potential for further optimization. 

What did we find?

As a result of the insights gathered, we could conclude that Very outperformed its two competitors in online retailing. The retailer scored an overall score of 67%, which indicates that their eCom page is relatively more advanced. Nevertheless, 67% indicates that there is still room for improvement for the three retailers. How do we arrive at this score? We measure each retailer across various metrics. Advanced implementations earn higher points than average ones. Thus, the better optimized a retailer is for advanced features, the closer they would be to 100%.

Next ranked second with a score of 62% and Asos scored 50%, the lowest score among the three retailers. These scores tell us that there is a considerable gap between Asos’ capabilities compared to Very. The industry itself is relatively advanced, however there are opportunities for improvement.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of their highlights and potentials.

Retailer’s Highlights

Despite having similar scores, each retailer is more advanced in some areas while average in others. Let’s take a look at some highlights from each retailer.

Guided Selling

Very provides great optimized guided selling content. They include a lot of images, links as well as videos to guide their customers to their products. Guided selling tools are important especially when users are more in the browsing stage. Through this, retailers can bring the in-store consultation experience to the eCommerce environment. This helps drive users to the purchase stage of journey effectively.

Very - Guided Selling
Very – Guided Selling

Product Page

Another highlight seen on Very.co.uk is the advanced Product Detail Pages (PDPs). The PDP is the most important section in online retail that can either make or break the transaction. Therefore, rich content being present in the PDPs can help drive conversions by providing interactive, visual, and engaging information about the product. Through rich content in the form of videos, images, infographics & comparative tools the information gets easier to digest.

Very - Rich Content
Very – Rich Content

Live Chat

Live chat is there to help customers 24/7 with any questions or dissatisfaction they might have. It can drive up conversion and reduce instances of returns or exchanges. Very and Asos only have automated chat functions which is moderately advanced. However, here is an example from Next, the only retailer in this analysis with a live chat option. Connecting with customers, even if prospects, and providing after-sales support is a key stage in your customers’ journey.

Next - Live Chat Function
Next – Live Chat Function

Free Return Policy

Asos, as the results reflect it, is not as advanced as the other two retailers. The retailer has quite a few standard features. What’s worth mentioning here though, is their free return policy. This makes a retailer more attractive in the customers’ eyes. Online shopping often has the risk that sizes, textures, etc. do not match customer expectations, for this a free return policy can put shoppers at ease and create opportunities for higher conversion.

Ratings & Reviews

Good ratings & reviews are impactful. They can influence the users’ opinions and transform them into potential buyers. Over 60% of users see them as essential in online retail. Naturally, if they are from verified purchases, they are even more reliable. Some retailers also go the extra mile and provide details about the users like sex, age, concern…etc. In this analysis, all three retailers had verified ratings & reviews emphasizing how important this feature is in online retail. Getting the customers to engage with the website and leave ratings & reviews has several positive effects including SEO benefits.

Next - Ratings & Reviews
Next – Ratings & Reviews

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Retailers’ Potentials

Before partnering with a retailer you, as a brand, need to focus on what features are essential for your customer’s journey to be as smooth as possible. The customers’ touch points with your chosen retailer have to work consistently and reliably. In this section, we will focus on highlighting potential areas found in the analyzed retailers. For these examples to feature here, it means that they were missing from at least two of the analyzed retailers.

Navigation Stickiness

The stickiness of the navigation is essential in ensuring a good customer experience. The navigation’s sole purpose is to guide the users to the most important categories and content on the website. Think of it this way, if it’s important you want it to be constantly there, right where users can find it. Sticky navigation also gives the users a sense of security, no matter how far down they scroll, they can still see the navigation and have access to its functions and categories. 

In this case, Very and Asos didn’t support it.

Short Description

Now think of a short description as an essential part of your customer’s journey in online retail. No matter how many steps your users have taken and what touchpoints they come across, now they’re on your product page. But what is there to convince them to dive in and add the product to their carts? Among so many other things, short descriptions are one of the key elements in converting users into potential buyers. They are usually right next to the product images and very close to the call to action button. Ideally, they should be bulletized, concise, and well-optimized. Unfortunately in this analysis, only next featured a short description.

Next - Bulletized Short Description (1)
Next – Bulletized Short Description

Product Imagery

Budgets allocated by brands for product imagery are extensive. 68% of marketers say they, more often than not, go over budget in the production of product images. That’s because 91% of online retail executives think that product images have a positive impact on conversion. So, before partnering with a retailer, one thing to consider is how many secondary images can the retailer feature. Most importantly because images, especially contextual ones, help users better visualize where this product would fit into their lives. And since a typical company creates at least 20 different images per SKU, it would be wise to partner with a retailer that can showcase as many of them.

Best Practices: What other retailers are doing right?

Here we’ll include a couple of best practices examples on what other UK retailers are doing right

Following is an example from Selfridges showing the stickiness of the navigation. As we’ve mentioned, the navigation is essential for users to browse the website. Imagine asking the user to scroll up and down the page for them to find the navigation and move to a different page. Users have to have visible navigation at all times for a better customer experience.

Selfridges - Stickiness of the Navigation
Selfridges – Stickiness of the Navigation

Advanced Product Pages Features

Our audits have also led us to discover interesting product page features. First is an example from John Lewis. On the product page, John Lewis’s users can do a visual search. A visual search enables the users to search using the images on the website. This feature is also available for images on the rich content. Results are then displayed on the right side of the screen with images and links to the websites.

Another interesting feature we’ve noticed on a couple of retailers is a label on the product image showing when was the product last purchased. In John Lewis’s case, it shows how many items were purchased in the last 24 hours and how long ago was the last purchase.

John Lewis - Dyson - Customer bought this label
John Lewis – Dyson – Customer bought this label

In Online retail delivery times are of utmost importance. The quicker and more flexible the retailer is in delivering the orders, the more likely customers would opt for it. The website should feature shipping options and delivery times. The information has to be well featured either on the homepage, in the footer, or obviously on the product page. Boots UK has an interesting countdown feature enticing users to place an order within the next hours to get a next-day delivery.

Booths UK - Countdown Feature
Booths UK – Countdown Feature

Key Findings For Very, Asos & Next

Here is a selection of features that we have analyzed. The grid below shows you details on how each retailer fares when it comes to specific functionality. This type of analysis helps brands make informed decisions on who to partner with.

Online Retail Benchmarking
Online Retail Benchmarking

Do you have other retailers in mind and would like to know how they score?

Get in touch with us moin@watersky.digital and get access to more in-depth studies and best practice libraries.