Study: Customer experience improves across channels during holidays.

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In what could be termed a gift for customers, major retailers generally improved how they engaged and served consumers in different channels during the 2015 holiday season.

According to the new “Omnichannel Retail Index – Holiday Findings,” from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consulting firm FitForCommerce, the availability of several specific online and seamless customer service offerings improved between summer and holiday season 2015. For example, 19% of 120 online and omnichannel retailers studied provided the ability to refine search results on a category landing page, up from 13%.

While adoption remained relatively low, retailers continued to focus efforts on in-store pickup of online purchases during the holidays, up to 28% from 23%. And the percentage of retailers allowing online lookup of store availability rose to 44% from 42%.

Mobile holiday performance also generally improved. Eighty-six percent of retailers provided a shared cart for mobile and desktop purchases, up from 84%. The percentage of retailers offering mobile-optimized email rose much more sharply to 77% from 55%.

However, the number of retailers offering live chat on product detail pages fell to 27% from 35%, possibly due to the challenge of catering to large numbers of online holiday shoppers. Other omnichannel capabilities that decreased during the holidays compared to the summer included free return shipping (44% from 49%) and interactive in-store displays and kiosks (39% from 51%).

Other notable findings include:

· The percentage of retailers offering loyalty programs rose to 52% from 40%.

· The number of retailers allowing in-store returns of online purchases increased to 68% from 57%.

· Eighty-nine percent of retailers cross-sold or recommended items on product detail pages, up from 72%.

· Customers could create an e-wallet at 73% of retailers, compared to 66% in the summer.

· Associates offered to look for out-of-stock items online or in another store at 69% of retailers, up from 39%.

In December 2015, FitForCommerce conducted the Omnichannel Retail Index Holiday Study to assess how major U.S. retailers are performing online, in stores and on mobile devices. Omnichannel experts mystery shopped and evaluated 120 well-known retailers across 20 verticals, of which 100 have bricks-and-mortar locations.

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