The UK’s retail sector contains some of the strongest brands for customer experience best practice in 2018. In KPMG Nunwood’s latest Customer Experience Excellence analysis, an impressive six of the top 10 companies were retailers, with the cosmetics brand Lush landing in the highest position. Moreover, the grocery retail sector specifically recorded the highest results, with the sector as a whole scoring four per cent higher than the UK average, which is more than any sector. Why has grocery retail performed more strongly than its counterparts, and is there a format for success that other industries can mirror?


Letting go of the past

When it comes to delivering a first class customer experience, the factor that distinguishes the high-flyers from the laggards is the way in which insight is garnered and applied. Many organisations invest heavily in data gathering, but not every company knows how to put this newly-acquired knowledge to good use. In many instances, there is a temptation to fall back on the lessons of the past, or to forge ahead with purely instinctive perceptions of ‘what the customer wants.’


The problem with this approach is that people’s expectations are constantly shifting, if not escalating. The very best organisations have set such a high standard for meeting and exceeding customer expectations that people have come to perceive such performances as the universal norm. As such, staying abreast of these desires requires deep and regular insight which can be quickly implemented, monitored, and refined; the customer experience champions never buy into the fallacy that ‘what worked yesterday’ will work tomorrow.


Expectations, therefore, is one of the key attributes of KPMG Nunwood’s Six Pillars. It’s a framework which represents the universal characteristics of all the best customer experiences, and the pillar of Expectations was found to have an 18 per cent weighting on a person’s brand advocacy in 2018. The other pillars – Personalisation, Time and Effort, Integrity, Resolution and Empathy – also resonate, and together with insight they guide organisations towards delivering truly first class customer experiences.


The customer experience best practice of Ocado

It’s this application of customer insight that has made grocery retail a stand-out sector for 2018. The online retailer Ocado was the strongest performer of the year landing in sixth place, explaining quite clearly on its website that, “data and insight are critical to everything we do.”[1] And when the nature of Ocado’s daily operations are considered, this statement seems all-the-more pertinent. Existing as a solely online supermarket, the structural integrity of Ocado’s customer experience rests heavily on the functionality of its website, and its ability to fulfil orders accurately and on time. This is particularly important in the omnichannel world of the 21st century, where a consumer can typically expect to interact via a smartphone or a PC with few barriers to impede their mission. Moreover, other companies such as Amazon and Argos have set a certain standard with same-day and even same-hour delivery options, leaving a lofty precedent in the mind of the online shopper.


For this reason, Ocado remains sensitive to the fact that it needs to compete in the pillars of Time and Effort and Expectations. As such, customers are able to choose a delivery slot which is accurate to within one hour, and at any time of the day between 5:30am and 11:30pm.[2] They also have the freedom to edit their order any time up until the day before the delivery window, and are supported by a smartphone app that enables a person to begin an order on their computer and complete it on their tablet. Moreover, shoppers can receive up-to-date tracking information on their order so that they can monitor its progress.[3]


And whilst all these endeavours help Ocado to remain competitive as a customer experience champion, it’s not a complacent organisation. The brand states that it’s the on-going stream of ever-improving customer knowledge that enables it to continually adapt and improve the overall experience, and its delivery fulfilment is subject to continued scrutiny; in 2017, it logged a 99 per cent order accuracy, and 95 per cent of its deliveries were early or on time.[4]


M&S Food

However, for grocery retailers that operate with physical stores, many other customer experience challenges present themselves. That being said, they have not proven to be too much of a barrier for M&S Food, which landed in ninth place in the 2018 CEE and recorded a rise of five positions since 2017.


Like Ocado, M&S Food recognises the value in the regular assimilation of insight. As M&S’ director of supply chain and logistics Gordon Mowat explains: “Everything we do as a company is filtered through the lens of what we know about our customers, and every decision starts with them.” Indeed, in the last year the wider M&S brand interviewed 700,000 people, using the resulting insight to improve products, ranges and messaging.


It’s a process which resulted in the brand’s ‘spend it well’ strapline, which M&S used to emphasise the value it places on customers’ lives, and its desire for them to be happy. “96 per cent of us live life on autopilot,” the company writes. “The result? We say yes four times each day when we want to say no… Reconnect with what really matters; prioritise to-do lists, stop comparing ourselves to others… If it doesn’t make you feel extraordinary, say no – we only get one life, so let’s spend it well.”[5]


M&S led by example in this respect, setting out on a mission to improve communities, planet and wellbeing, and encouraging its shoppers to do the same.[6] And such attitudes help grocery retailers like M&S Food stand out in the pillar of Integrity, which has a 20 per cent impact on customer advocacy and a 17 per cent impact on loyalty in the UK.


Customer obsession

It is understandable, therefore, why grocery retail has become a flag-flyer for customer experience best practice in 2018. But the common denominator shared by companies such as Ocado and M&S Food is the recognition that the process is ongoing. A company does not reach a point of CX ‘enlightenment’ and then relax; rather, it keeps returning to the customer and listens to their voice, tweaking services, introducing new ones, or even abandoning endeavours that worked twelve months ago but have ceased to bear fruit. As such, the sector comprises of brands that are genuinely customer-obsessed, and are dedicated to the task of making improvements for the betterment of those they serve. It’s this perspective that acts as a signpost for any company looking to climb the rungs of the customer experience excellence ladder. 


Download the 2018 UK Customer Experience Excellence Analysis in full.





[4] KPMG Nunwood’s 2018 UK CEE analysis, page 15


[6] Ibid.