How can online retailers keep up with brick-and-mortar retailers when it comes to customer communication?

How can online retailers keep up with brick-and-mortar retailers when it comes to customer communication?
Published on: Jan 31, 1970
Updated: Aug 18, 2022

Since Corona, many people's attitudes toward online shopping have changed. If going to the brick-and-mortar store is now only possible with the donning of a mouth-to-nose covering as well as sufficient distance, many customers still decide to shop online - especially when it comes to product categories such as fashion, furniture or similar. However, online retail is still said to be too impersonal and many customers therefore prefer to go to the stationary store.

Online and stationary trade in figures

It is no secret that online retail is growing rapidly. If you compare the years 2012 and 2018, sales have almost doubled. While in 2012 sales were still around 28 billion euros, in 2018 they were already 53.6 billion. Although you may not believe it, retail sales have also increased. Compared to online, however, the growth is nowhere near as strong. In2012, retail sales reached 445.4 billion euros. Compare that to 2018, where sales reached 525 billion euros.

Online retail sales show a strongly rising curve. (Source: HDE / Statista)
Compared to online trade, sales in stationary trade increased only very slightly. (Source: HDE / Statista)

Now you probably wonder why there is always talk of the extinction of retail, when sales are increasing. The problem is the low growth. While the online competitor is growing at a high rate, this is only very moderately the case with stationary trade. So the fear is that online retail could eventually catch up with or even overtake brick-and-mortar retail.

How many stationary retailers have an online store?

The advantages of the online store are obvious: customers can shop directly from their sofa, they are not tied to opening hours and it is fast. Because more and more customers appreciate these advantages, almost all major retailers such as H&M, Zara and Co. now have an online store in addition to the offline store. For many, however, this is not yet the case. According to a survey by HDE (Handelsverband Deutschland) , 65 percent of retailers do not run an online store (as of 2018). Only 25 percent of retailers sell their items via their own web store and 15 percent via a marketplace, such as Amazon or eBay. And it is precisely this fact that caused problems for many retailers during the Corona crisis. Those who operated their businesses exclusively offline were dealt a poor hand during the crisis and had to act quickly.

The majority of German retailers do not yet run an online store. (Source: HDE)

From stationary trade to online trade


Even online retailers who relied only on their brick-and-mortar stores during the Corona crisis have realized that it is important to adapt its business processes to online retail. Crises like this can happen again and again in the future. For this reason, it is all the more important to position oneself online and to continue to operate one's business digitally in the event of a crisis. However, anyone who takes this step in the final stages should also keep in mind that customer communication can also be handled reliably online at all times.

At best, customers would like to receive the same support in the online store that they expect from the brick-and-mortar store. But how realistic is that really? Can retailers also offer their customers this shopping experience online? The answer is simple: Yes!

Customer communication in online retail - here's how


Many retailers think that the customer journey stops when the order is sent - but this is not the case. For the customer, the shipping process is one of the most emotional phases of the customer journey, because that's when the longing wait for the package really begins. For this reason, it is all the more important that customers are proactively and reliably informed at all times about status updates and the whereabouts of their shipment. Customers should also receive the right advice in e-commerce. With the following three tips, retailers are well on their way.

More personalization and appreciation

Online retail is growing and growing - but retailers must not forget their customers. Appreciation should no longer be exemplified only in brick-and-mortar retail, but is also becoming increasingly important in e-commerce. Personalization also works in online retail. But how? Personalized newsletters and mailings can address customers directly. It is also important that customer service is available at all times should problems or questions arise with the customer.

Real-time status updates

It is important that online retailers inform their customers in real time. Are there any innovations or has something important changed? Then merchants should inform their customers about it immediately. Real-time customer communication is becoming increasingly important. And this is no coincidence. Communication is becoming increasingly digital and faster. You can now communicate with many companies via a chatbot integrated in Facebook Messenger.

Don't forget shipping

Online retailers unfortunately often leave customers alone after sending the order. In doing so, they should also manage shipping communication themselves and not hand it over to the shipping service provider. The parcelLab E-Commerce Shipping Study found that the top 100 online retailers are very frugal with any messages sent after shipping confirmation. 35 percent of the top 100 retailers send no message at all or only one message to their customers. There is definitely room for improvement here.




Customer communications are becoming more digital and fast-paced. Customers expect online retailers to provide them with real-time information and answers. Those who manage to communicate proactively and personally with their customers will be rewarded - with customer loyalty! Not a bad deal. However, customer communication shouldn't stop after the order is placed, and many retailers often forget that. Shipping and returns communication should also function smoothly. That's why online retailers should always handle this themselves and not leave it to the shipping service provider.

Anyone who still thinks that online retail cannot keep up with the support and customer experience of brick-and-mortar retail has (hopefully) been proven wrong by now at the latest.

Finally, it is also important for online retailers with a strong advisory service to recognize that good advice does not end with the click on the buy button. With good post-sales support, you can inspire customers today - and retain them in the long term.

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