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Consumers speak out about customer experiences on Cyber Monday 2014

With over $2 billion in ecommerce transactions, Cyber Monday 2014 marked the single heaviest day of online spending in U.S. history. But we’re not just talking the pure dollars and cents that come from clicking the “buy now” button. To OpinionLab and the customer-centric brands we support it was $2 billion in opportunities to deliver outstanding customer experiences, from the ease of purchase, search functionalities, call center interactions, and even post-sale experiences such as packaging and delivery.

At OpinionLab, comment card submissions were up 50% compared to a normal day, and we collected roughly 60,000 submissions on Cyber Monday alone. From Thanksgiving through December 1, we received 16.5% more submissions than in 2013. Notably, consumers submitted 67% more free-form comments than they did last year. Let that fact sink in for just a moment and give credit to customer-centric brands that are listening to their customers in the moment of real experiences.

The record online sales and volume of feedback are both testaments to the rising importance of customer experience, which Gartner deems the “marketing leaders’ next battlefield”. The differences between online and offline customer experience seem to have played a crucial role in consumer behavior this holiday season. While Cyber Monday saw 17% year-over-year growth, The New York Times reports that in-store Black Friday sales actually declined 11%.

Did shoppers lose some of their appetite for long lines, crowded stores and the mad rush for goods? Did advancements in online shopping technology and the convenience of shopping from home give the digital face of omnichannel a serious bump? From retailer to retailer, what specific factors were behind the successes and failures in customer experience?

It’s now common knowledge that the only way to answer such questions is to listen to consumers. As this holiday season reaffirmed, shoppers are more than willing to give their two cents – especially when retailers allow them to share open-ended feedback in the moment and on their own terms.

During peak hours of the holiday shopping weekend, OpinionLab received approximately 3,300 comments per hour. The retailers monitoring this data had a pulse on their customer experience, and compared to 2013, many more used OpinionLab Alerts to automatically distribute comments to departments that could act on the feedback. The volume of Alerts was up 13% this year, and we saw more unique users taking advantage of them. The Alert users were uniquely empowered to make improvements, address grievances and preserve a consistent customer experience in real-time.

Just as importantly, feedback from this critical shopping weekend offered insights that will drive long-term strategy and differentiation. When Gartner surveyed 200 marketing leaders for its report, “Customer Experience Emerges as the Marketers’ Next Battlefield”, 89% said they expect their companies to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2017. Indeed, Gartner predicts that 50% of consumer product investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations by that year.

Marketers need a reliable way to monitor customer experience and uncover innovations, changes and new offerings that could differentiate their brand on the battlefield. If Cyber Monday is any indication, consumers can be willing partners in improving their own experience. They want to be heard, and they want an easy mechanism to voice their opinions. Brands that are willing to listen to their consumers will always find a happier customer in the long run.

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