What Our Data Tells Us
Black Friday weekend is the peak of the retail year, driving a high volume of sales and a corresponding increase in customer inquiries.
Like each year before it, Black Friday 2021 was no exception. Yet, after two years of pandemic-induced lockdowns and public health measures, some things about how we shop have changed.
We've analyzed customer interaction trends captured from Linc's CX Automation platform over the last three years to see how consumer preferences and behaviors have shifted from 2019 to 2021.
Let's take a look.
It’s Not eCommerce vs. Bricks-and-Mortar
For the first time in history, Black Friday 2021 saw a noticeable drop in online sales compared to the year before.
Online sales during Black Friday 2020 hit an all-time high of $9.03B, followed by a decline of 1.3% in the 2021 season to $8.9B. Cyber Monday 2021 sales also dropped 1.4% year-over-year to $10.7B.
But that doesn't mean shoppers flocked to the malls instead.
We're seeing the emergence of hybrid shopping, with customers prioritizing maximum flexibility across the purchase life cycle to minimize disruptions and inconvenience.
In this hybrid approach, businesses leverage both digital and physical touchpoints to engage throughout the customer journey and fulfill purchases through options like Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS) or Buy-Online-Ship-To-Store (BOSS).
Look for hybrid shopping to continue to grow in 2022 and beyond.
Post-Purchase Still Dominates Order Inquiries - But Order Modification and Promo Support are Hot Topics
When brands experience an influx of sales, their customer support teams also experience a rise in support requests to their call centers or live chat teams.
Automation dramatically deflects the influx of calls and outreach to human agents and allows customers to rapidly resolve their inquiries through automated assistance or self-service landing pages.
We dug into the top customer intents driving automated support inquiries over the last three holiday seasons.
Post-purchase inquiries such as order tracking or modification continued to reign supreme as the most common support topic, which, given the current state of the global supply chain, comes as no surprise.
Instances of customer support around navigating promotions remain among the most frequent inquiries after jumping to number two last year.
After almost two years of businesses closing their doors, enterprise retail brands resorting to layoffs, and unemployment at an all-time high - consumers focused on identifying ways to save money via promotions and sales.
Even as the economy has begun to rebound, this appetite for deals hasn't died.
While our client's customers' combined intentions paint a vivid picture of post-purchase inquiries as the top topic of customer support initiatives, priorities shift once we look at customer intent by individual verticals.
While clothing brands such as PacSun and Carter's still ranked post-purchase use cases among their top reasons for customer outreach, the data from beauty brands (Strivectin and Farmacy Beauty) and accessory brands (Kipling and EZContact) told a different story.
These retailers had a larger volume of customer inquiries about active promotions and questions relating to specific products, such as locating particular items, which given their number of SKUs and the personal nature of their products, makes sense.
As we moved to physical, durable goods, the effects of closed stores were immediately noticeable.
From 2019 to 2020, customer outreach's top intent shifted from post-purchase order support to consultative selling.
Without the ability to venture to stores to research products in person, customers relied heavily on businesses' automated support to get their product-related questions answered.
In 2019, FAQ and product-related inquiries surprisingly didn't rank as a topic for outreach intent, but by 2020 they accounted for over 17% of all queries.
Even as stores reopened in 2021, this inquiry type remained popular as consumers became used to relying on automated assistance during the crucial research-before-you-buy phase.
Customer Comfort With Automated Support Has increased, But Human Agents Haven’t Been Unseated
While robust automation can resolve over 85% of common customer support inquiries ranging from research to buying to post-purchase support, there will always be a handful of complex use cases that require escalation to a human agent for resolution.
During 2020, the primary reason for outreach to a live agent revolved around account management, which involves activities like updating payment methods, adjusting reorder frequency, or making changes to subscriptions.
In 2021, over 21% of all human-to-human interactions were for order modifications, while a further 17% were inquiries related to tracking orders, again pointing to shoppers' desire for hand-holding during what were, at least this season, the most variable and complex aspects of the purchase process.
Across all industries, however, it was clear that automation was able to offset the inundation of call centers and live chat agents by resolving the bulk of customer support inquiries in real-time, without human agent involvement.
As we reviewed customer intent analytics, it was undeniable that brands that leveraged automation saved themselves from being completely overwhelmed with customer inquiries surrounding commonplace use cases.
Despite many customers utilizing the automated and self-service solutions set in place, many still opted for human-to-human interactions, perhaps simply out of familiarity.
Yet, if these brands had not implemented automation to deflect some of these everyday use cases, the results could have been catastrophic.
Automation Kept Retail Brands’ Heads Above Water.
Brands that employed automation saw an unprecedented reduction in support costs from 2019 to 2021.
Whereas businesses that had automation solutions deployed in 2019 saw an average annual support cost reduction of $333K, by 2021, that figure exploded to $870K annually–more than a 161% increase in savings in two years.
As we reviewed customer intent analytics, it was undeniable that brands that leveraged automation reduced customer care costs and saved themselves from being completely overwhelmed with customer inquiries surrounding commonplace use cases.
Historically, the holiday season has been a nightmare for live chat and customer support centers.
Often, the influx of customer support outreach can't be matched - even by hiring seasonal support workers.
In an economy where recruiting and hiring these employees has become more complex and costly, leveraging automation made a significant bottom-line impact for brands this Black Friday.
Personalization Drives Revenue
In 2019, brands that employed automated solutions saw an average revenue generation of $1.06 per session. By 2021, the same brands were generating an average of $3.89 per session–an increase of over 266% more in just two years.
By leveraging a brand's product catalog and internal sales knowledge, coupled with an understanding of customer shopping habits at an individual level, automated solutions were able to make product recommendations that resonated with customers, leading to more sales and greater spending per order.
In the same vein, we found that individualized product recommendation campaigns outperformed traditional promotional campaigns by nearly 300% across our clients.
The data is clear–shoppers want to feel seen and cared for and will reward these efforts by opening their wallets a little wider.
Bottom Line: The Pandemic Consumer is Here to Stay
As consumers turned to online shopping more frequently in the last two years, they've begun heavily scrutinizing their digital experiences on a brand-by-brand basis. They will continue to do so even after the pandemic eventually subsides.
Businesses that quickly and thoughtfully adapted to shifting consumer behavior and engaged with customers on their terms saw an increase in satisfaction and loyalty.
Our data tells a compelling story – stellar customer experience has cemented itself as today's number one competitive advantage, overshadowing even price and product quality.