UK Retailers and Omnichannel Offerings: Why They Fall Behind Their US Counterparts

Compared to their US rivals, UK department stores are losing ground when it comes to omnichannel retail and introducing omnichannel experiences that satisfy consumers’ growing demands, research finds, raising serious considerations about the future of UK’s high street, especially after the fall of retailers Austin Reed and BHS not long ago. With more than two centuries of experience, thousands of staff, and 100+ shops, neither brand managed to keep up with the increase of online shopping (their online presences and websites were developed too slowly) and the fact that more suitors have entered the arena.

These claims were made in Rockpool’s report, published recently. According to the customer experience agency, there is plenty of room for improvement, especially in areas such as personalisation and customer service. Consumers need retailers to provide them with wowing experiences that go beyond the transaction, but, most importantly, they want the retailer to become more of a part of their lives and their communities somehow.

Rockpool’s research used mystery shoppers that were asked to rate a total of eight UK and US department store chains, such as Marks & Spencer and Macy’s respectively, based on their omnichannel capability. Specifically, they were rated for the quality of their customer experience and how satisfied consumers were with the provided experience; cross-channel customer service and promotions; whether customers could access consistent pricing; the spectrum of their return options and delivery; and their ability to use data and technology to get a clear understanding of their customers’ needs. The winner of this race was Sears with an overall score of 83, followed by other US counterparts, leaving UK retailers with scores that ranged from 47 (Debenhams) to 57 (John Lewis).

What has made Sears the clear winner?

Sears’ first place is attributed to the fact that they have worked hard to provide a highly engaging and cohesive cross-channel customer experience, says Rockpool’s CEO, Bruce Griffin. This means that their omnichannel experience is consistent across various areas, which makes it effective, which is where John Lewis fell significantly short.
That aside, they have also encouraged their employees to have personal interactions with customers after they have equipped them (the staff) with the necessary data. Personalisation is key but was almost absent (or absent) in the UK brands.

US and UK retailers: How they differ

For data and technology, the US average score was 65 as opposed to their UK counterparts’ 44. For cross-channel experience, the score was 63 vs. 54. American consumers have higher expectations from customer experience than the British, Griffin believes. Also, US retailers seemed more willing to change their approaches and make them more productive much faster than the UK’s department stores that were more focused on perfecting their delivery and operational capabilities first, before improving retail experience, he continues.


James Leighton Davis is a Customer Acquisition Consultant, Interim DigitalDirector, and NED, primarily for PE-and-VC-backed companies across B2C, B2B and D2C markets in both the UK and Australia. Further information is available at

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