The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a massive blow to bricks and mortar retailers, but for those with an established online presence, many experienced a significant uptick in sales. In Australia alone, the dramatic shift to online purchasing saw Australia’s total online sales rise by an average of 67.1% from March to October 2020, with many predicting the shift to online shopping is here to stay.

But while the increase in online shopping has been a boon for online retailers, it would be unwise to sit back and assume those sales will just keep rolling in. As consumers make a more permanent shift to shopping online, larger, more traditional retailers will naturally look to increase their online presence, creating an even more competitive online market. Securing and maintaining market share is now more important than ever – and one of the best ways to do this is by improving your online customer service.

Mimicking in-store experiences

Although shoppers enjoy the ease and convenience of shopping online, many still prefer to talk to sales assistants in person. In fact, recent research showed that 50% of Australian shoppers missed having face to face customer service while forced to shop online during lockdown, as well as other ‘real life’ shopping experiences, such as hand-picking items and trying things on.

It’s important for retailers to put themselves in their customers’ shoes and realise that shopping online can sometimes be an overwhelming experience. Particularly if they’re shopping for niche or speciality items and have a lot of questions about how to find the right products. Retailers need to create an online shopping experience that mimics in-store shopping as much as possible – and part of this is making sure someone is available to answer customer questions in real-time.

Tailored advice over automation

While FAQs and chat bots definitely have their place, it’s important not to rely exclusively on automated customer service, as this can leave customers feeling frustrated when they’re unable to get the answers they need. Retailers of all sizes need to be approachable and customer service centric, ensuring that shoppers are able to speak to a support person – whether via live chat or phone – to help guide them through the sale when required.

One of the biggest issues with automation is that sometimes customers aren’t even sure what they need. This is something we experienced firsthand during the height of the pandemic when Australia went into a national lockdown. We received queries from restaurants and cafes, from fashion labels and fitness instructors, who all were trying to figure out how to suddenly get their businesses online but didn’t know where to start. It was only through lengthy conversations and taking the time to understand their specific needs that we were able to help them find the right solutions. This is a level of detailed, tailored, customer advice that automation simply cannot replicate – and it’s one that vastly improves the conversion rate.

Customer advice blogs

It’s well understood that shoppers will research a product online before purchasing, and retailers can use this to their advantage. As well as price comparisons and customer reviews, shoppers will also be looking for information about how to use a product, its key benefits, and how it might compare against a similar product.

A savvy retailer can pre-empt these questions and create advice blogs as a way of answering any pre-sale questions in advance. Such blogs could cover topics such as pitting two products against each other and examine the pros and cons of each; providing step-by-step set up guides; or even showcasing hidden features that many people don’t know existed. Not only does having such content available help provide useful and insightful information to your customers, it has the added advantage of improving SEO and increase organic visitors to the site.

Infinite opportunities

Online retail is only going to get more competitive, but it’s never been a better time for Australian businesses. Since the pandemic, more Australian shoppers are choosing to shop locally and support local online retailers than ever before, which brings infinite opportunities for growth.

Retail might be shifting online at a rate of knots, but the need for tailored, friendly, customer service will always be at the heart of any successful business. Online retailers must go above and beyond with their customer service efforts, making themselves available cross all mediums – from live chats to phone calls, and even social media channels – providing quality, personalised advice in order to attract and retain more customers.    

Rob Ranoa is founder and owner of Hypop