Despite solid performances from retailers John Lewis and House of Fraser over Christmas, the aftermath of the festive period has brought an icy wind for many other high street brands. M&S, Tesco and most notably Morrisons have all found disappointment in their sales figures after the wrapping, tinsel and ribbon has come off their performances over the vital holiday period. Most notable was Morrisons, whose CEO Dalton Philips has finally fallen on his sword after years of underwhelming performance, according to the FT last week.
While many well regarded brands posted surprisingly poor sales figures, another remarkable aspect of retail trade over the Christmas period was the high number of deliveries that didn’t arrive when or where they were supposed to – causing potential loss of reputation and trade. Certainly, the volume of online orders over the festive season helped to push internet sales in the UK to a record £104bn, but this year also saw a corresponding rise in complaints from customers.
So, what’s happening here? And more importantly, what’s this go to do with PR? Well, while ensuring that the physical delivery network is up to scratch, especially in the chaotic lead up to Christmas, retailers need to make sure their lines of communication to customers are clear and able to keep up with developments in real-time. Sure, retailers such as Next and Ocado have coped well this year and out-performed the market during December. But other big names, who perhaps should have done better, seemed to fall at the last hurdle; the crucial last mile to the customers’ letterbox. They also appeared to compound this poor performance with often disjointed customer communications, which only made matters worse.
Clearly, good PR is no longer just about journalist briefings and sending out press releases. It’s about embracing dynamic tools such as Twitter and other social media channels, to ensure customers are kept informed of order deliveries. Some got it right this year, and those that failed to deliver seemed to have made matters worse by not engaging with frustrated customers and acting quickly to sort things out.
While most retailers have embraced social media to improve customer service, 2014 will be remembered as the year that sheer volume of online orders revealed the cracks in certain brands’ customer communications strategies.