Consumers seek support, empathy as COVID fuels online shopping boom

COVID has fuelled an online shopping boom, and put customer service in greater focus.

COVID has fuelled an online shopping boom, and put customer service in greater focus. Photo: Getty

The pandemic has seen consumers in Australia and around the world embrace online shopping like never before.

In turn, this has forced businesses of all sizes, from supermarket giants to high street boutiques, to improve their eCommerce services.

With online shopping volumes predicted to remain high in the post-pandemic world customers are re-examining their values “and what they expect from the companies they do business with” according to a new report from customer service software firm Zendesk.

More than half (55 per cent) of Australian customers surveyed by Zendesk said they would spend more for better online shopping experiences, according to the firm’s 2021 customer experience trends report released on Friday.

Nearly two in five vowed to switch to a competitor after just one poor experience, with the figure rising to four in five after multiple bad experiences.

Online customer support requests surged as the pandemic wreaked havoc around the world, with the average weekly number of requests up 20 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

“We’ve been seeing year-on-year growth in support transactions, with a lot more in 2020,” Zendesk customer experience strategist Malcolm Koh said.

Customers just needed help because there was increased anxiety and things were changing much more quickly than before.’’

The pandemic hasn’t changed what customers need in terms of support, but it has “pushed those things to the forefront”, Mr Koh said.

Many customers are seeking empathy in their online shopping dealings, with 59 per cent of those polled saying they wanted customer service agents that were empathetic.

Ethics was also highly valued, with two-thirds of shoppers polled saying they wanted to buy from socially responsible companies.

“Customers want speed and convenience, but they’re also seeking empathy and commitment to the core issues they care about”, the report said.

The pandemic has “put CX on steroids and made it a lot faster, made it stronger, because you can see leaders in CX and non-leaders”, Mr Koh said.

‘Omni-channel support’ – where customers can access support across a range of mediums including email, voice call, messaging and more – is also increasingly important.

An email, for example is less “intimate” than a real-time online chat, while a phone call may be the best and most efficient way to sort out a complex issue.

“This year people couldn’t meet face to face and needed a lot more engagement,” Mr Koh said.

“Omnichannel addresses the customer where they want to go.”

The online shopping boom

Overall, 8.9 million households shopped online in 2020, an increase of 10 per cent year on year, according to Australia Post data.

In December, online purchases were up a staggering 34.9 per cent nationally year on year.

Source: Australia Post

More than 5.6 million Australian households shopped online in December alone, up 21.3 per cent on 2019.

Food and liquor experienced the biggest growth, with online purchases up 50 per cent year on year in December, followed by fashion (up 27 per cent), and home and garden (36 per cent).

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