Ghost shopping is a fairly new term in retail, but it describes how customers are visiting a high street store and then ordering the same product online, often on their phone while they are still in the store. Yes, many of them don’t even go home first.

Research Webhelp conducted last week with YouGov revealed that around Black Friday and Cyber Monday 18% of 18–24-year-olds will ghost shop while still in the store and overall, 1 in 10 across all age ranges surveyed admitted they had ghost shopped while visiting high street stores.

I can remember when people used to go window-shopping. They wouldn’t buy anything, but they might spend hours exploring stores and looking at products and retail displays. Ghost shopping sounds like this, but the big difference is that these are real customers! They’re buying products but using high street stores as a way of seeing and feeling the products before actually buying.

The research unsurprisingly confirmed that customers are increasingly turning to online shopping around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, it’s not just the younger generations that do so; we found that more over 55s said they will be shopping online for Christmas this year than those aged 18-24. So while ghost shopping may well be more common with younger shoppers, it would appear that online retail is generally popular with anyone who wants to save time and reduce the stress of waiting in line with other bargain-hunters.

When Black Friday and Cyber Monday customers need help from retailers, social media is popular among 18-24-year-olds, with 35% using it as a research tool compared to only 12% of the over 55s. 28% of 18-24-year-olds also used it to contact retailers when product issues arise, with 47% of 35-44-year-olds using webchat. Overall, a third of UK consumers still phone a contact centre, proving that if your enquiry is urgent or complex, then it is still better to pick up the phone than to fire off a tweet!

However, it’s interesting to point out that our work with clients confirms that while the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend remains an important trigger for pre-Christmas sales, a majority of retailers are moving away from a focus on a single day. Many are spreading their Black Friday activity over an entire week, but some are focusing on the entire Black Friday to Christmas period as this helps to avoid the chaos of trying to focus so many sales on a single day.

To back this up, over the past few years, Webhelp has found that the Black Friday period required a doubling in the number of customer service advisors, but this year the increase will only be half that. This is because we’re actively working with retailers to manage certain Black Friday and Cyber Monday activity with chat bots and to improve self-service – i.e. helping customers to resolve their own issues without requiring the contact centre.

The main focus has been to ensure that the end-to-end customer experience becomes more sophisticated, in order to reflect the way consumers are experiencing and engaging with brands. This involves a greater focus on engagement, building genuine ‘relationships’ with customers, and offering well designed options such as self-service and chatbots so that customers can resolve simple problems quickly without the need to call for help.

To conclude, it’s clear that shopping behaviours will continue to evolve   with the potential to further impact the high street. It’s not all doom and gloom however… retailers that adapt to create rewarding and seamless shopping and customer service experiences, irrespective of the channel, and reimagine the actual role of the high street, will  reap the rewards.

Interested in digital transformation or the work that we’re doing with some major retailers? Please get in touch – I’d love to talk. Want to find out what Webhelp South Africa can do for your business? Get in touch – I’d love to talk. Email: brandon.aitken@uk.webhelp.com.

Email: brandon.aitken@uk.webhelp.com.