Sentiment Spotlight: Mischief in Multi-channel Retail

By: Dheepan Ramanan

February 16, 2016

customer experience

The face of retail isn’t a neighborhood cashier anymore, it’s your web browser. E-commerce kings like Amazon have disrupted shopping patterns, moving dollars from malls and physical outlets to the cloud. Even businesses that are traditionally focused on brick & mortar sales have adapted, spending millions on web platforms. This becomes more crucial as online traffic shifts to mobile platforms. 2015 was the first year that Google recorded equal amounts of mobile and web traffic. Now shoppers go to stores expecting to browse merchandise and simultaneously compare prices on apps, redeem coupons and pick-up in-store orders. This week we analyzed 7 top online and physical retail clothing brands to measure online versus in-store performance.

To achieve a baseline reading, we used Clarabridge sentiment analytics to look at the common sentiment of four prominent department stores (each of which has both online and physical locations) and four major online-only retailers. Neiman Marcus is the most-liked brand overall in terms of positive comments and sentiment score, with 41% of all comments registering as positive. On the flip side, Macy’s is held in the (relatively) lowest esteem, with a -.23 overall sentiment score and the highest percentage of negative feedback. Revolve Clothing and Shopbop, online clothing sites that do not resell discount goods, have very high customer sentiment.

Top Shopping Customer Touchpoints
Store merchandise is the most common topic of discussion, commanding 34% of the conversation. The sentiment surrounding merchandise overall is very high, with a score of .84. Store efficiency is the second most popular theme, but that specific conversation carries a negative sentiment. Customer problem resolution experience is the third-most mentioned theme and is also highly negative. Website usability is the fourth most mentioned theme – far down the list of customer concerns – and is negative overall.

Website Versus In-Store Experience By Brand
As you can see in the chart above, website experience varies highly from brand to brand. Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom have more comments on the website and in-store experience than Barneys, and both score highly with in-store experiences. However, both Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus experience a level of underperformance compared to in-store customer sentiment.

Online Only Versus Department Stores
Compared to retail department stores online retailers have more mentions of website usability, fulfillment and price/value comments. Fulfillment and Price/Value have worse sentiment among online retailers, which is particularly true of discount retailers like GILT, Rue La La, and Hautelook, whose customers are inherently price-conscious. Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus compare favorably to GILT and Rue La La in sentiment surrounding website usability. Fulfillment is the biggest issue with Hautelook, with 16% of all comments for this brand focused on this topic; the brand also had the worst sentiment in this topic amongst the brands studied.

Brand Comparisons
In general, the numbers bear out the idea that well-established brands – which are those in the brick-and-mortar category – still maintain the most positive sentiment amongst consumers. High-end retailers like Barney’s and Neiman Marcus have invested significant resources in maintaining their reputation, which results in a higher-quality customer service staff and a better customer experience overall. It’s this superior experience that helps these establishments overcome the majority of online shopping related issues. It also helps them hold off the emerging field of high-quality, online-only retailers – who without any experiential differentiators are more subject to negative sentiment related to merchandise quality, price, and the logistics of fulfillment.
For more information on delivering a superior online shopping experience, download our cheat sheet below.

Dheepan Ramanan is a data scientist at Clarabridge. Follow him on Twitter @DheepanRamanan.