Customer Experience Makes Niche Online Stores Winners

There was a time when ecommerce was thought of as a race to the bottom -- a channel where only the cheapest survived. That's what makes today's Which?list of the best and worst online shops so interesting.

At the top we have specialist stores that focus on a great user experience, coupled with easy navigation and technology. This means people can trust what they see, take onboard advice and then find what they need -- knowing they may not be paying the lowest price but are getting a great service that won't end when they click on PayPal to convert.

Online beauty retailer is the clear winner with hi-fi and home theatre specialist in second place, just ahead of clothing stores, and in third place, which was also shared with

I can testify to RicherSounds being a great brand that has always kept well-trained staff in-store to make sure people get good advice and service. That has obviously translated well online. In fact, if you check out all five of these sites, which occupy the top three spots, they look beautifully well-designed and clearly laid out with, my favourite attribute, delivery details made transparent on front pages. Nobody likes having to hunt through ten clicks to find how long it takes for stuff to be shipped and at what cost.

It would be easy to think that these are specialist brands where people are looking for advice and so it follows a knowledgeable site could rise to the top. That is certainly true but it also applies to the stores at the bottom. Homebase and B&Q are in last and almost last spot separated by SportsDirect which also comes 98th out of 100 stores in the high street listWhich? has produced. 

You can't find a category of retailer that lets down its customers more than a DIY store. Terms are confusing, help is never available and navigating in-store or online is an absolute nightmare. As for SportsDirect, the only surprise is that there is a worse online retailer in the country. The site comes over to me as brochureware that is tricky to navigate 

Which? sums up the difference between those at the top and the bottom as the winners taking advantage of poor service at bigger-name high street stores' sites as well as making the entire process simple and convenient, with prompt deliveries and a clear returns policy.

The aforementioned in-store survey Which? has produced similarly has brands at the top who offer great experiences and customer service that is highly regarded. Richer Sounds is up there is sixth place while Lush is a clear winner. Again, I can testify that Lush is a wonderful experience, it smells great and the assistants always help my daughters ensure dad comes out a few pounds lighter than he went in -- if only we were talking weight rather than cash!

So, anyone in ecommerce who is finding a lot of push back from an organisation which thinks in-store service attributes don't apply online, they now have the Which? high street and online lists to show that customers really do notice the little things that are actually very big things. Sure, price is a big consideration -- but in the long-term it is not the only consideration. 

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