It's Just Shopping

3 Cornerstones of Superior Customer Service in a Mobile-Minded World

February 25th, 2015 by

Investing in the customer experience must always include a service component. While strong merchandising sets the tone, service is long remembered by shoppers building loyal customer bases over time. There are many aspects of customer service but ensuring success means retailers are accessible, efficient in their execution and strong communicators where timing is of the essence. Putting all three of these elements in play will put one in a strong position to score with shoppers. To understand the current state of each, research findings from the e-tailing group’s Mystery Shopping results of 100 retailers (EG100) will be referenced.


In a world where customers want and expect to access retailers from every available device, comprehensive and clear information should form the foundation for strong customer service. Today access starts with finding information via self-service tools where FAQs are now present on 83% of the EG100 where the ability to search these databases has increased to 26 sites from 20 in 2013. Customer service hours are less frequently found onsite this year (77% vs. 83%), making it difficult for shoppers to conveniently get in touch with retailers.

With customers shifting among channels, a universal list of product/favorites, optimally accessible in any channel, is now more frequently available (82% vs. 73%) with even more offering the ability to move an item from their cart to a saved list for future purchasing available on 65% of sites versus 54% in 2013. Once orders are placed, providing a customer service phone number on the order confirmation sees slight improvement (81% vs. 77%) but should be universally available in all communication.


Fast is the mantra of the omnichannel shopper where any roadblocks can result in abandonment, a lost sale and potentially a missed customer. 98% of retailers are wisely prepopulating customer profiles in their shopping carts to save shoppers time. One click checkout, of particular importance to mobile shoppers, has its foundation on the website, where half of the retailers now facilitate such a checkout, up from 43% in 2013. Choice plays into efficiency as well where payment options such as PayPal see increased deployment (68% vs. 62%) though mobile growth will likely mean greater payment competition in the near future.

As logistics pressure mounts with pressure from Amazon to Zappos, retailers are responding as the number of business days to receive the product, based on a choice of ground shipping, improved to 3.42 days, up from 3.80 in the prior year. The return factor should never be underestimated as more retailers (66% vs. 60%) have moved to a single return policy while online returns processing is available on 38% of sites up from 27% in 2013. The always preferred prepaid label is an added convenience and is provided on 64% of sites versus 59% in the prior year.


Engaging with retailers for service is now more readily available so the burden is on the retailer to create a culture where associates are knowledgeable about products, adept at handling customers and efficient in their ability to deliver the right answer expeditiously. Retailers are making choices about which touchpoints to make available and the response times noted below influence the decisions consumers will ultimately make. For those in a hurry, call centers still solve problems the fastest at 6 minutes while chat, a favorite of multi-taskers falls in to the 10-11 minute range. There are tradeoffs for every channel and the customer has the luxury of making choices that work for them.

Remember, service when executed well is the gold standard shoppers are seeking. We encourage every organization to continually evaluate their own performances based on pre-established standards. As the world moves more into omni-channel scenarios, creating cultures where service is fostered and a customer first mentality will be mandatory to a stable and thriving business.

Anatomy of the e-tailing group’s 2014 Mystery Shopping Winner: HSN

February 24th, 2015 by

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Four Themes Rose Above All Others…

March 3rd, 2014 by

Just as in the 2014 Winter Olympics the consumer serves as the judge of ecommerce retail success. They are fierce in their assessment where winning scores are measured through KPIs that include conversion, average order size, and retention. The e-tailing group’s 16th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, conducted during 4Q’13, benchmarks 335 metrics on 100 ecommerce websites across 13 consumer product categories. From a merchandising perspective, shoppers mentally score every site visit to award medals for efficiency, inspiring experiences and promotional prowess on their browse and buy missions. While the retailer’s score always begins with product, it’s the merchandising elements that serve as the differentiators that allow the best to reach the medal stand during the holidays and throughout the year.

Four themes rose above all others in a review of 2013 data and the comparable research from the prior year.

1. Efficiency

Shoppers seek out time-saving tools where both technology and innovation are embraced to better serve the consumer. Efficiency most often accompanies search where retailers almost universally (89%) have in place dropdowns for a quick read of the assortment while 90% of those merchants embellish these locations with favorite products or pre-defined offers. The keyword search box, heavily used by online shoppers, finds 70% of retailers incorporating type-ahead features though unfortunately only 29% employ visual search to further aid shoppers. Once results are delivered, 45% optimize search results with badging that could include labeling such as new, free shipping or sale to capture the shopper’s attention. As many shoppers like to scan for an overview, one-in-two retailers allows for the ability to view all products and 60% make a quick view available to gather essential details about a product.

2. Promotional Punch

2013 saw promotional purchasing reach exceptionally high levels and research we conducted indicated that shoppers took advantage of a promotion 74% of the time.1 Adoption of the successful flash sale mentality can be seen in the growth of limited-hours specials now found on 53% of the sites up from 47% in 2012. Given its mass appeal, free shipping saw interesting shifts in 2013 where retailers simplified their strategies starting with the 20% of retailers who offered free shipping on all products. Of the remaining 80% of retailers unable to extend that benefit, 71% offered conditional shipping up from 57% in 2012, while only 35% funded free shipping on certain products.

3. Inspiration and Experience

Technology and creativity is core to inspiring shoppers where a range of merchandising tactics serves the shopper well. Three-out-of-4 retailers take advantage of home page slide shows to better visualize their assortments. Video is embraced by 89% of retailers with product page level integration at 72%, though unexpectedly down from 79% in 2012. Themed and seasonal tactics reemerged lending a shot of adrenaline to otherwise cookie-cutter retailing. Lookbooks are now more accessible than ever though only 22% of sites embrace, up slightly from last year’s 17%. We do expect that this is a tool that fashion companies will continue to test where making it shoppable adds an important purchasing dimension (67%). Investing in model photography sees traction among 77% of relevant retailers while Shop by Outfit functionality serves to grow the AOV for 54% versus 44% in 2012 and Shop by Room inspires the interior decorator in us all (48% vs. 38% in the prior year).

4. Social Reach

Retailers are cognizant of the fact that today’s consumer favors reviews and forty-eight percent of shoppers were always or frequently influenced by online ratings and reviews this holiday season.1 Thus, reviews are a standard and present on 89% of the retailer sites with more attention being paid to the depth of reviews (2.29/3 up from 2.26 in 2012). A new metric added this year is the ability to sort reviews where we are happy to report that 90% of the retailers incorporated such functionality into the shopping experience. Reach can be accomplished in many ways and an overview of social dynamics sees significant interest starting with blogs (up 56% from 47% the prior year). General links to social networks are consistent though the composition now finds growth from Pinterest (70% vs. 52%), YouTube (68% vs. 62%) and Google+ (46% vs. 22%). We’re not clear on why the Like button’s presence declined from 74% in 2012 to 66% as it’s not in keeping with other trends. Taking advantage of the consumer’s viral bent is seen as product page sharing reached new heights (95% up from 89%) and again Pinterest leads the pack at 89%, up from 74% in the prior year. “Retailers realize that smart merchandising is a mandate. Experiences must inspire consumers and allow for efficient exploration. Sharp pricing and promotion should be continually monitored and tools to extend reach put in place to support today’s omni-channel shopping landscape.  1 Baynote/e-tailing group 4th Annual Holiday Survey; 2013

Courting Customers Through Cart Abandonment: 2013 Mystery Shopping And Merchant Survey Insights

June 20th, 2013 by

Cart abandonment is always a hot topic as the opportunity to tap into an audience that has expressed interest in making a purchase is an ideal gateway to conversion. The 148 participating retailers in our Annual Merchant Survey made it clear when describing the success of personalization tactics. Triggered shopping cart abandonment emails topped the list of strong performers where 61% of retailers reported that they are very/somewhat successful up 5% from 2012.

In addition to the Merchant Survey, we have continued to monitor triggered emails as a result of abandonment, now in our 6th year. For each of the 100 merchants that are part of our Annual Mystery Shopping Survey, we have added an item to the cart (with a retail value over $62.99) going through the entire checkout process then stopping just before completion and leaving the site. Subsequently we track all email correspondence regarding the items left in the cart, respective strategies, participating merchants and incentives.

Merchant Adoption of Abandonment Practices
One can summarize abandonment strategies as more aggressive year-over-year. Just under 1 in 4 (23%) took advantage of triggered email with all targeting prospects with HTML messages. Knowing that a more personalized experience performs well 61% included the product image while 26% personalized the email salutation. A slight increase in the use of incentives was tested with 26% of retailers hoping to reel in shoppers where offers ranged from free shipping to 20% off. All year-over-year details are summarized below.

1st Abandonment Email e-tailing 100 2012 e-tailing 100 2011 e-tailing 100 2010
% Penetration % Penetration % Penetration
# sites that sent abandonment emails 23% 20% 23%
   HTML 100% 100% 100%
   Image of Item Displayed in E-Mail 61% 50% 35%
   Personalized in Salutation 26% 20% 35%
Average # Days to Receive From Date Shopped 3.70 5.65 4.96

Communication Efforts Continue
A look at retail strategies also finds that of the 23 retailers who sent an initial email just under half (48%) followed up with a second message in hopes of securing the sale. They tended to be more aggressive as 55% now had an incentive included as part of their marketing strategy which was double that of the initial mailing. It’s interesting to note that the average number of days to receive this communication was 7.39 days up from the prior year’s 5.0 days

Policies And Performance
2013 Annual Merchant Survey results based on 148 participating retailers indicate that shopping cart abandonment rates have declined. Dedicated merchant efforts should be credited and for those that know their rates they appear to be evenly split averaging in the 41-50% range.

Findings from our Annual Merchant Survey suggest that we should have received even more triggered email.  A review of questions focused on personalization indicate that triggered shopping cart abandonment emails top the list of tactics that deliver ROI as 61% of retailers reward them as being very/somewhat successful performing above every other noted tactic.

An array of policies is in play for holding merchandise in the cart where category, brand and inventory turn are important factors in establishing one’s policy.

The Tactics
Retailers test a myriad of tactics to communicate with those shoppers abandoning carts where incentives are playing a greater role. We would have expected given these findings that our mystery shopping would have seen higher triggered emails as they once again lead the way as chosen communication techniques.


e-tailing group Abandonment Checklist

  1. Establish a strategy for saving items in the cart
  2. Understand current technology’s ability to trigger abandonment email
  3. Message cart strategy to ensure customers know when and if their cart will be cleared
  4. Include an urgent call to action
  5. Utilize HTML and photos to visually enhance abandonment emails
  6. Review abandonment opportunities from branding to customer service
  7. Include merchandising tactics to foster the customer relationship and encourage purchasing beyond the abandoned item
  8. Provide a link to the abandoned cart and direct to cart links for additional product recommendations
  9. Integrate cross-channel elements and social engagers to elevate the brand
  10. Use promotional incentives to save the sale if important for your brand and strategy

Intelligent Merchandising

February 5th, 2013 by

The e-tailing group prides itself on always recommending intelligent merchandising having tracked ecommerce from that orientation for 16 years. The customer today is short on time yet willing to research product and price to ensure they’re getting the right product that suits their needs. That aspect of shopping hasn’t changed but what’s different is the Internet’s ability to zero in quickly on that item.

Merchandising serves as the conduit for researchers and buyers where giving product visibility can be the difference between a click to cart or a click to a competitor. With conversion still concentrated in the 2% range according to our e-tailing group 2012 Merchant Survey, merchandising selection and placement is paramount to success. Winning strategies center around search so optimizing one’s search results through labeling and merchandising of themes, hot product or sale should be beneficial. Creativity and visibility go hand in hand as 86% of the merchants we shopped during our 2012 Mystery Shopping have wisely chosen to leverage dropdown navigation given its frequency of use. Others have taken it one step farther where 56% make it part of their type ahead feature when shoppers enter a keyword or phrase. Beyond this the use of slide shows and promotional overlays plays well in best showing one’s assortment. Labeling results serves as the merchant’s editor to direct shoppers based on new or sale product or one that may have been featured on a top television show.

From the traditional tactics that have long been part and parcel to shopping such as top sellers comes social-oriented tools such as top rated and customer photos that provide peer-based sentiments. Video too is an up and comer bringing to life products that require demonstration or categories that can use explanation educating shoppers while they are in the path to purchase. Despite challenging the retailer’s bottom line, free is seen as the perennial favorite where retention is often forthcoming as many of us know from our Prime Amazon memberships or increased Nordstrom purchasing based on such added convenience. Beyond that perk, their frequent shopper programs reward shoppers where relationships with retailers often transcend finding the lowest price.

The product page is at the core of intelligent merchandising where real estate is tight and information requirements unlimited. We have learned through some of our proprietary research that the quality of the image, color change, alternative views of the product and zoom top the list of tactics consumers want to see. A comprehensive product page should be able to inform and inspire and for shoppers may be a first step to an in store visit fueled by a product locator and/or in-store pickup option. Category-centric selling is essential as retailers incorporate comparison tools, configurators or the ability to look inside in order for shoppers to make confident buying decisions. The devil is in the details from showing scale of jewelry to the inside of roller board luggage. Here too social dynamics are a “must do” from product ratings and reviews to Q/A that allow for community engagement. Videos and how-to guides provide product specific information that demonstrates how the stroller opens or closes or how to install a kitchen sink.

Learning what works for you brand and your customer should be all about testing and refining the shopper experience. At the same time, monitoring your own site as well as the competitive landscape, something that is core to our business at the e-tailing group is advisable to ensure your merchandising is intelligent and on par with the best in the business.

Key Pages Kick Start the Mobile Experience

December 15th, 2012 by

“All key indicators are up, and we expect mobile sites to continue their rapid evolution in order to meet the customer’s omni-channel expectations that include efficiencies, cross channel access and merchandising consistent with the best-of-the-web,” observes Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group. The goal of our 3rd Annual Mobile Mystery Shopping Study was to follow this evolution as the gap between channels narrows, sharing with the ecommerce industry important benchmarks that shape the customer-centric, mobile user experience.

The Methodology
Based on our audit of 168 metrics on 50 mobile sites (EG M50), the mobile shopping experience has shown strong improvements in overall efficiency of the experience with more consistent cross-channel branding and evolved merchandising, coupled with a proliferation of promotional tactics. A more direct connection between the mobile customer and their closest store location facilitates shopping the customer’s way.

Mobile Customer Experience Index
For the 2nd consecutive year, in conjunction with our 3rd Annual Mobile Mystery Shopping Study, we created the Mobile Customer Experience Index, which leverages quantitative analysis to uniquely understand how mobile merchants stack-up against the 50 mobile websites in the e-tailing group study (EG M50). Mobile websites were scored on a 100-point scale based on an assessment of metrics on five key pages, presence and execution of vital merchandising tactics, along with accessible and effective customer service. Our scoring emphasizes what shoppers truly want and need to shop via mobile. Last year only five sites studied achieved a score of 80+ on our 100-point scale. This year that number doubled to 10 with the overall Customer Experience Index score increasing from 64.56 to 71.53­ — a significant 11% increase in these early days of mobile. One of the sites, REI, was recognized for the past two years as a top mobile performer and is still on our top-ten list. Kudos for the stellar execution!







Key Page Kick Starters
Shared below are additional observations from our 3rd Annual Mobile Mystery Shopping Study. We highlight key pages and show their importance as the “chassis” or foundation of a positive mobile experience. Merchant examples showcase exemplary execution from our most recent study, with trophy-worthy messaging, functionality, merchandising tactics and promotional strategies.

On Your Mark, Get Set…Go!-The Home Page
The home page is the “first impression” and sets the tone for the remainder of the mobile shopping experience.

Shoppers at 1-800 Flowers can hit the ground running with a home page that affords quick entrance into some of the top giftable categories. Notable features include:

  • Colorful and appealing visual presentation that artfully uses icons for emphasis
  • Gift finder that enables browsing by recipient zip code, occasion and desired send date
  • “Featured Collections” for shoppers on-the-move who need quick gift suggestions
  • Prominent purple click-to-call button that quickly connects the shopper with a customer service agent
  • “Best Retail Mobile Site” award instills shopper confidence
  • Facebook and Twitter icons that encourage social engagement

Heaping on the Horsepower-The Category Page
Effectively leverage the category page to draw customers in; it is a “gateway” to the merchandise customers are seeking and eventually might purchase.

Bath & Body Works puts the category page to work as a vehicle for category-centric merchandising and promotions:

  • Sub-categories are enhanced with attractive graphics
  • Expandable interface keeps page streamlined
  • A variety of promotions are offered from $5 candles to those that encourage multi-unit sales
















Providing a Profitable Pit Stop-The Product Page
A comprehensive product page should intrigue with engaging product enhancements and entice with relevant recommendations that encourage shoppers to buy more.

Best Buy’s product page includes features that support the decision-making process and ultimately convert customers.

  • Features of multiple products can be compared
  • Product can be enlarged for a closer look
  • Product details can be shared and added to a wish list for future consideration
  • Messaging addresses stock positioning and expected shipping time-frames
  • “Special Offers” are highlighted
  • Cross-channel shopping is promoted by enabling shoppers to find the product in a store location and to ultimately “Pick It Up”
  • Relevant recommendations can be directly added to the cart and are positioned to increase AOV
  • Customer-centric product ratings instill buyer confidence

Checkered Flag Completion-The Cart
With more merchants implementing a stepped checkout or collapsible cart interface combined with the greater integration of product recommendations and the overall increase in the checkout rating, it is clear that strides have been made that improve the mobile checkout process.

Staples’ shoppers encounter an unusually feature-rich shopping cart.

  • Product recommendations are kept well-organized and accessible with an expandable interface; the most relevant items are prominently displayed and can be quickly added to the existing shopping cart
  • With this message, “Did you know that Staples now offers delivery to stores?” cross-channel awareness is elevated and a visit to the store encouraged
  • Contrasting text draws attention to promotional offers plus shipping and delivery messaging

Pit Crew Assist-Customer Service
Sundance presents a customer service page that includes:

  • Comprehensive ordering, shipping, return and payment information
  • An integrated guarantee
  • The ability to request a catalog

The Checklist
By viewing the best-in-class merchant examples above and answering the questions below, ask yourself, “What can my organization do to close the cross-channel gap and provide an optimal, customer-centric, mobile user experience.

  • Are your site’s key pages indeed the “chassis” of your mobile channel?
  • Do you create a, flawless, omni-channel experience with branded messaging, visual merchandising, promotional offers and rich content?
  • Can customers find it fast through relevant refinement options and keyword searches?
  • Do you regularly implement site improvements and test them for usability and performance?

The Mobile Merchants

Does your email strategy need a re-boot?

June 26th, 2012 by

At the e-tailing group we see hundreds of emails flood our inboxes on a daily basis. A large percentage are consistently the same format with minimal changes being made from email to email, making us question if merchants are becoming complacent or even lazy in their email strategies.

During our 14th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, conducted in 4Q’11 we saw email traffic increase by 5.8% over last year with an average of 2.70 emails being received per week.  The large increase in email volume was due in part to multiple emails sent the same day or consecutively reminding recipients of rapidly approaching promotional deadlines and/or extensions. So while merchants are sending more emails in actuality they are frequently sending the same messaging

Smart, savvy merchants have broken out of this pattern by acknowledging email campaigns as a way to connect with shoppers while simultaneously branding their company through creative and engaging communications.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Sent: 5/1/2012
Subject line: The New Original Jean + FREE Shipping Every Day

  • Creatively makes a basic “new” and interesting again
  • Provides outfitting suggestions
  • Promotion of free shipping offer
  • Highlights family of brands


Lands’ End
Sent: 10/26/2011
Subject line: The Save $40 on $100 + move fast for $10 Turtlenecks – today only!

  • Incorporates many merchandising strategies while keeping creative clean
  • Iron clad guarantee front and center
  • $ off promotion called out in contrast color
  • Limited time offer showcased
  • New product featured


Sent: 6/1/2012
Subject line: Office Romance: The Clothes Our Employees Love

  • Clothing shown in lifestyle setting makes it understandable how to wear
  • Most stylish employees” verbiage persuades these are key pieces to buy
  • Ability to shop by outfit


Nine West
Sent: 5/1/2012
Subject line: Sally Says – We’ve Been Pinned

  • Nine West capitalizes on the importance of community
  • Most pinned shoes highlighted
  • Invitation to follow merchant on Pinterest
  • Mother’s day gift guide included
  • Spring sale highlighted
  • Frequent buyer promotion mentioned

The Checklist

By viewing the examples above and viewing the checklist  below you will be able to gauge how “fresh”, engaging and on brand your email initiatives are and what modifications may be needed  to achieve company goals.

  • Do your email campaigns excite you? Make you want to explore further?
  • Do you use the same template continually with only minor tweaks?
  • Is your email campaign aligned with the company branding strategy?
  • Are you optimizing your community to its fullest potential?
  • Are you using social media advantageously?

Merchandising Results From The E-Tailing Group’s 14th Annual Mystery Shopping Study

February 2nd, 2012 by

The e-tailing group’s 14th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, conducted during 4Q’11, benchmarks 375 metrics, including 224 merchandising tactics, on 100 ecommerce websites across 14 consumer product categories.

As ecommerce continues to mature, refinement is the name of the game. Over a fourteen year span of annually mystery shopping merchants we at the e-tailing group, have observed the evolution of browsing, research and buying via the online channel as well as the recent merging of social networks and mobile devices into the fold. We have watched consumers take control while merchants rally to meet their demands for fast, efficient experiences. We have also witnessed merchants becoming adept at marketing to engage and retain these consumers. Here we’ll highlight select findings from our most recent study as it pertains to two of the evolving trends in omni-channel customer experiences-social standing and mobile inroads.

Social Standing

Socialization begins onsite with a goal of customer involvement then moves to Facebook where this study benchmarked 37 features on merchant Facebook pages. Among the primary onsite tactics are landing pages sorts by customer rating, denoting top rated products and providing “ask & answer” on the product page. Links to social networking and the presence of the “like” button are now more prevalent than ever as are social features in post order emails.

Just over half the merchant Facebook pages currently offer some form of shopping with most re-directing customers to the retailer’s ecommerce site but 16% do enable buy now functionality that provides direct access to shopping via the Facebook page. These and other shopping-centric metrics tracked for the first time this year are charted below.

Mobile Inroads

While merchants are focused on refining existing ecommerce strategies, innovation is apparent in the development of mobile as well as social platforms. In fact mobile commerce increased by 75% year-over-year.

New metrics indicate a strong presence of mobile apps too with links to both mcommerce and mobile apps on ecommerce sites helping to bridge the omni-channel experience.




















Clearly, our Mystery Shopping Study confirms that merchants are concurrently refining online tactics while diligently developing social and mobile initiatives. Their ultimate goal must be to deliver a channel-agnostic shopping experience whereby the consumer can seamlessly migrate from the physical store to their channel-of-choice based on shopping dilemmas and desires.

A report detailing benchmarks from the e-tailing group 14th Annual Mystery Shopping Study will be available to purchase and download via at for $395.

Retailers Committed To Search, Email, SEO In ’12

November 11th, 2011 by

Champagne Tastes and Caviar Dreams: A Global Look at Luxury-Part I

October 25th, 2011 by


Why Luxury? Why Now?

Today’s demanding consumer expects conveniences, craves connecting and has greater access than at any other time. She embraces an A-to-Z of buying options that include Amazon, Gilt and Net-A-Porter on the pureplay front while still relishing retail stalwarts that include Nordstrom, Neiman’s and Tiffany’s. Brands have played their hand in a multitude of ways where early web adopters included Ralph Lauren and Coach while others have only recently embraced the digital world. It is no longer optional to participate in the digital world where branding and selling are part of today’s marketing equation.

There are a number of factors that have recently converged to elevate the role luxury retailing can deliver online and across an array of channels. Affluent consumers have strongly embraced technology and associated devices where tablets and social access via Facebook are part and parcel to daily media consumption.

These same tools have enabled luxury brands to create customer experiences through new marketing methodologies that were never available in early commerce endeavors. The ability to bring their brands to life via video and shoppable lookbooks positions these companies to create experiences that compel shoppers to connect with those whose products they own or aspire to purchase.

Social elements have added a new dynamic that further encourages merchants to connect and communicate with one’s customers and prospects. From fanning one’s favorites to seeing the newest runway fashions or simply sharing with peers around the world it takes community and connectivity to new heights.

The E-Tailing Group Embraces Luxury

For the e-tailing group, it was clear that now was the time for us to take a closer look at such an important sector as Luxury. The goal of our Inaugural Luxury Mystery Shopping Study was to assess a core group of retailers and brand manufacturers from the vantage point of the affluent customer, who according to Luxury Institute News, “rated sites based on visual appeal, navigability, product selection, use of images and text in helping them to better understand product features, security of personal data, ease of purchasing and access to customer service.”

Our Process

As believers that “retail is in the details” it was time to leverage our 14-year mystery shopping track record and bring that same level of diligence to understanding how luxury retailers and brand manufacturers are making their mark on ecommerce, social networks and mobile channels to effectively connect with customers in today’s global selling environment.

In 3Q11 we benchmarked the high-end, luxury consumer experience from information gathering through purchasing. We wanted to select 20 prestige companies that would reflect the brand manufacturers currently going direct-to-consumer and their retail counterparts who have long been e-commerce enabled. In order to find a strong mix, we began by looking at over 200 companies. We had long tracked many of the luxury retailers as part of our Annual Mystery Shopping Study but knew a strong representation of brand manufacturers would be important to round out our list.

We chose to focus on apparel, home and accessories including jewelry as those categories dominate the luxury sector. Initially, sites at a minimum had to offer satisfactory ecommerce and from there we gravitated to those that embraced the channel with some degree of sophistication. It is interesting to point out that many of those reviewed would never have been in a position to be part of the EG100 for our annual study because their orientation centered more on branding than selling. This wasn’t a surprise to us but something we simply factored into the overall index weighting.

The Eg20 Luxury Merchants

Based on our study of the initial group of 20 sellers and the subsequent results, we decided that, rather than take a category-centric approach, a brand manufacturer versus retailer comparison would provide the greatest insights. It will be this comparison that guides our thinking and will resonate throughout.










The E-Tailing Group Inaugural Luxury Customer Experience Index

In conjunction with our Inaugural Luxury Mystery Shopping Study, we have created the Luxury Customer Experience Index, which leverages quantitative analysis to uniquely understand how each luxury merchant ranks against the aggregated 20 luxury sellers in the e-tailing group study (EG20), as well as brand manufacturers (12) and their retail counterparts (8). Luxury sellers are scored on a 100-point scale based on an assessment of metrics on five key pages, presence and execution of vital merchandising tactics, along with customer service execution and accessibility.

Despite the encouraging results for those at the top of our index, it is interesting to note, that only two sellers in our study achieved a score of 80+, with the high score being 83, on our 100-point scale.  These results are relatively modest compared to our more established EG100 index where 10 sites achieved a score of 80+, with 88 points attained by the highest scoring merchant.

We look forward to our next study when we would hope this bar will be raised higher by striking a better balance between branding, merchandising, shopping efficiencies and service. Additionally, we would expect that brand manufacturers will continue to elevate their experiences, putting themselves in a more competitive position.

Brand Manufacturers vs. Retailers

As emphasized in the introduction, the e-tailing group Luxury Customer Experience Index was also segmented in regard to brand manufacturer versus retailer performance where retailers outperformed the brands by quite a large margin. 






This we believe is due to the late entrée of many of the brand manufacturers in contrast to their retail counterparts. The level of sophistication that consumers have come to expect particularly for these demanding consumers represents a growing opportunity and one they must conquer to bridge this gap.



  1. Brand manufacturers placed more emphasis on the “brand experience” by creating a central hub which combines salient company information and, more often, rich media elements like ad campaigns and fashion shows which are core to their orientation.
  2. Brand manufacturers often delivered more of a “wow” visual experience but were less likely to integrate efficiencies for a total shopping experience.
  3. Retailers were more apt to get the “conversation” started by encouraging shoppers to “email” a friend, click the “like” button or by engaging them with a content-driven blog.
  4. While somewhat fewer brand manufacturers had a Facebook presence, they’ve clearly done a superior marketing job of attracting followers to their pages (an average of 1,982,166 vs. 466,589 for retailers).


  1. Retailers realized the requirements for a comprehensive onsite selling environment and are diligently elevating the experience while brand manufacturers currently face a steeper learning and selling curve.
  2. Brand manufacturers did not offer many incentives or customer perks; there were even fewer promotional opportunities than their retailer counterparts and they did not invest in loyalty programs for their customers.
  3. Product was the star for both brand manufacturers and retailers, but retailers made greater strides elevating the product page experience. They effectively utilized the product page as a selling tool, highlighting and enhancing the product with creative merchandising via shop by outfit, video and more product recommendations.
  4. Presenting a well-merchandised gift center and offering gift cards with free shipping and gift packaging was a fairly low priority for brand manufacturers though seasonality may be playing a role.

Customer Service

  1. Overall, retailers made themselves more available to their customers with 800 numbers that were better displayed on home pages, site-wide contact information access and the showcasing of customer service hours and FAQs of commonly asked questions.
  2. Brand manufacturers gave customers more limited access to customer service agents for service and product support, a likely frustration for shoppers spending at this level.

Stay tuned for Part II of our Global Look at Luxury series where we explore how luxury merchants create digital customer experiences by leveraging the brand.

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