A year on from our initial research into shopping apps and their usability, Davies Hickman has revisited the 30 apps in our 2020 study to reveal whether any improvements have been implemented to make the customer experience more enjoyable and the process easier to manage.

Modest improvements in app customer support

Even a quick scan of review sites such as Trustpilot show that customer service issues remain common amongst retail app users. Consumers’ comments relate to whether an individual feels listened to and the ease with which issues are resolved.

An effective and responsive communication channel is key

It seems the designers of these 21st century shopping facilitators would do well to note, and act on, a simple maxim the economist Albert O Hirschman noted over half a century ago in his book Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Hirschman wrote that consumers have two responses available to them when an organisation is providing a poor service. They can withdraw from the relationship ie exit, or they can attempt to improve the relationship through communication ie voice.

Consumers want to voice their questions and success in answering them generates repeat business for the apps themselves. The number of brands providing a contact phone number that is easy to find on the app remains unchanged. Instead brands have tried, with mixed success, to offer alternative communication tools such as voice-based chatbots and our findings also suggest messaging is gaining traction. WhatsApp has become a slightly more popular means of answering queries while other social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook Messenger, are increasingly used. Some form of messaging service, whether human, automated or both, is available on 18 of the 30 shopping apps.

Messaging is the prevalent communication channel offered

Although our current research shows a rise in the number of shopping apps that give consumers the option to raise a complaint, from a mere 5 to 11, apps offering an in-app complaint option remain in the minority. With brands competing for the post pandemic pound and market share, those making it easier for customers to raise issues may be a step ahead in building engagement.

Our 2021 research found that the majority of the apps now offer the option of scanning barcodes or uploading photos to find specific products, although a voice search feature is still only used by a few brands such as Asos. Some brands are making access to their products easier by implementing faster deliveries while the fashion brand Zara has added a feature that only shows clothes on the app which are immediately available for pickup in the nearest store. However there has been no increase in apps offering click and collect.

Disappointing lack of improvement in other app features

Despite the improvements made in customer support, some aspects of apps have remained unchanged. For instance, none of the fashion brand apps investigated offer video calls as part of their customer service, even though video consultations are evident in other sectors like finance. As customers have become increasingly confident interacting via video, with the recent rise in popularity of platforms such as Zoom, Spaces and Teams, online retailers could benefit from adding this feature to their apps as it would effectively facilitate the process of answering questions, showing products and giving advice.

Is video call customer support the next step for retail apps?

Similarly, the use of augmented reality within apps hasn’t increased significantly over the past year, even with developments in AI and Mark Zuckerberg’s promotion of the ‘metaverse’.

The identification and verification element of apps has witnessed no increase in those offering face-id, with only 7 of the 30 using ID&V technology. Surprisingly, there has been no change in the number of apps offering Klarna or other BNPL payment services. And fewer than 15 of the 30 shopping apps offered Apple Pay, a limited increase on 2020. 

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