Mystery Shopper Benchmark: Is the Online Customer King?

Customer service reps

Customer service is vital in creating an extraordinary brand experience, even more so in e-commerce. Speed in both reacting and providing a solution are key to keeping customers satisfied.

According to the 2022 UK Customer Satisfaction Index, increasingly more customers even consider the rating/quality of customer service as a deciding factor for where to shop.

What does that mean for British webshops?

  • How well do online stores in the UK perform on customer service?
  • How long does it take before consumers receive an answer?
  • What contact options do they provide to their customers?

Ecommerce customer service specialist Salesupply went undercover and contacted 75 of the biggest British ecommerce shops to discover the current status of British ecommerce customer service (see reviewed stores in the appendix).

What are the most popular customer service channels? 

Most online stores offer multiple contact channels. Every customer is different and they all have their own preferred way of contacting customer service. With 89%, email is the most offered contact channel, followed by phone with 86%. This fits the European trend; since 2021, email is the most used customer service contact channel of the European consumer.

On average, the visited online stores offer 2.6 contact channels. Most of the webshops (45%) offer two customer service channels for customer queries, followed by three channels (24%). Only 2% of the analysed online stores offer all five possible channels.

Should online stores offer as many service channels as possible? 

According to Jonathon Huggett, Business Development Manager at Salesupply UK, the most important thing is that stores deliver top service via the channels that they do offer. “You should always focus on your customers: who is your target audience and what are their preferred contact channels? Per channel, make sure the waiting times are short, agents are professional, well informed and emphatic, and – the most important – make sure that the customers’ questions are resolved quickly. Preferably during the first contact moment.”

Customer service: available when the customer needs it? 

One of the big advantages of ecommerce is the possibility to shop at any given time and place. The evening peak in online sales (between 7 pm and 9 pm) confirms that consumers fully embrace this advantage. For online stores however, this can be a challenge. Customer service should be available during these peak moments to resolve the questions and doubts customers may have. The peak in cart abandonment (between 7 pm and 11 pm) shows this is not always the case.

The study shows that there is room for improvement with regards to customer service availability. In 52% of the cases, customer service was only available between 9 am and 5 pm just like regular offline retail business. The customer service department of more than half of this group (27% of the respondents) is only available during the daytime Monday to Friday. “A missed opportunity” according to Huggett. “The importance of customer service in the pre-purchase phase is often underestimated. Online customers are impatient. When a question arises, they expect an answer right away. If customer service is not available at that moment, they will not hesitate and go to a competitor. Nowadays, an online store can no longer avoid offering customer service during evenings and weekends.”

Chatbot: live or hybrid?

Chat solutions are certainly not new but the technology keeps on evolving. 43% of the ecommerce shops visited during this survey, offer chat as a contact channel on their website. Of these online stores, most of them opt for manual chat with live agents (44%). The automatic chatbot is the least popular option (21%) while 35% of the only stores with chat functionality offer hybrid chat. Hybrid chat is becoming more popular each year. The chatbot resolves the easier / standard cases, giving the agents more time to focus on the more complex customer service requests.

Response times customer service channels – How do the visited online stores score on speed?

Response time phone

How long do online shoppers in the UK have to listen to the waiting music before being attended? We called the customer service departments of these 75 webshops on workdays between 9 am and 5 pm. In 30% of the cases, a customer service agent answered the phone within 40 seconds. For 10% of the ecommerce shops in the UK, it took the customer service department 5 minutes or even longer to answer the phone.

What difference does it make to wait a couple of seconds longer? Is it really affecting the customer experience? According to Huggett, waiting time is one of the most important aspects with regards to the phone as a service channel. “Online Consumers are becoming more impatient by the year.” A study by Skopos showed that German consumers’ maximum accepted waiting time is 4 minutes. A worldwide study by Genesys showed similar results. ‘Customer experience is very important, the longer you let your customer wait, the harder it becomes to change this negative experience into a positive one.’

Response time email 

Among both consumers and companies, email is the most popular contact channel. Research shows that 74% of customers expect an answer to their message within one day. How fast are the online stores in the UK? Well, quite fast actually. Of the web shops in this benchmark, 32% responded within one hour and 66% of the companies responded within one day. A small minority (2%) took longer than a week or never replied at all.

Focus on customer service opening hours

There are many ways in which online stores can improve their customer service. Based on this survey, what should they focus on? According to Jonathon Huggett: “Within this benchmark one finding stood out: the tested stores have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to their customer service availability. There is always the possibility to extend the number of offered channels or to upgrade to a hybrid chat, but that is not the most important thing. We recommend online stores to expand their customer service opening hours. It should no longer be an option for customer service departments to not be available after 5 pm or during the weekend. This is where a lot of shops are missing out on extra turnover.”

About Salesupply

Salesupply is a Dutch ecommerce services provider specialized in ecommerce customer care and efulfillment. More than 500 online brands and retailers worldwide rely on the services of Salesupply.

Salesupply offers native customer care in 36 languages in 3 time zones. Salesupply’s scalable and flexible fulfillment platform enables online stores to compete with local players worldwide through local storage and delivery.
Salesupply’s head office is based in Nijmegen in the Netherlands and the company also has branches in amongst others the United States, UK, Germany and Spain. For more information visit:


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