Thought Leadership BLOG

Specialty Retailers Invest to Survive

By January 22, 2018 No Comments

Our team of mystery shoppers is back. This time, they visited specialty retailers (niche retailers that focus on specific product categories), to determine which companies provide the best shopping experiences. Our brand consumer study found that some consumers prefer brands over retailers, so we wanted to understand how companies are amping up their strategies to lure customers away from brands and back to their specialty retailers.

In our 2017 Specialty Retailer Omnichannel Mystery Shopping Report, we analyzed the customer experiences of 50 leading specialty retailers. Here’s what we learned:

Top Performers

To figure out the market leaders, we surveyed specialty retailers, both with brick-and-mortar locations and without, across multiple product categories including accessories and apparel, beauty, department stores, home and sporting goods and technology. Across the board, several key players stood out for providing excellent customer experiences across channels. Here’s our top 10:


  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Macy’s
  • Best Buy
  • The Vitamin Shoppe
  • The Home Depot
  • American Eagle Outfitters
  • Saks Fifth Avenue
  • Office Depot
  • Nordstrom
  • The Container Store

Online Only

  • eBags
  • Wayfair
  • HSN

Retailers Have Covered Basic Product Details, But Need to Go Further

Almost all online shoppers will scrutinize product details, so it’s critical that specialty retailers provide comprehensive and accurate descriptions on ecommerce sites. Most retailers have mastered the basics: more than nine out of 10 offer staple features like alternate views, color change, real-time inventory levels and ratings and reviews. However, there are opportunities for specialty retailers to go even further.

Only 52 percent of retailers included in the report offer product page videos — a missed opportunity, since video content can educate and demonstrate products more effectively. Additionally, Q&A sections only appear on a third of specialty retailer sites, while product guides in this location appear on only 26 percent.

Specialty Retailers Improve Customer Service Offerings

Specialty retailers face the eternal struggle of cart abandonment, and must combat it by making online shopping as frictionless as possible. That’s why 98 percent pre-populate customer information online, and 76 percent offer one-click checkout features.

However, in the cases when customers have to interact more deeply with retailers, many falter. While all of the retailers analyzed offer call centers, only 34 percent provide live chat options and a meager 6 percent address customer queries through Twitter. As customers demand more flexible and efficient ways to interact with retailers, retailers will need to improve these offerings.

Retailers Must Continue to Invest in Omnichannel Features

As customers move across laptops to phones to brick-and-mortar locations, a seamless experience is a must, since customers will choose to shop elsewhere if options are unavailable. Fortunately, specialty retailers are making strides.

Inventory transparency is now standard, with 73 percent of retailers offering product locators to help consumers find inventory in real-time. Since customers want products as quickly as possible, it’s crucial to show them exactly where they can purchase them quickly and conveniently. Additionally, specialty retailers offer more advanced online options so customers can find the products in the stores closest to them: 65 percent offer mobile geolocation services.

These companies do need to invest more in alternative delivery options. While slightly more than half (52 percent) offer in-store pickup options, only 26 percent provide ship-to-store services and 16 percent allow customers to reserve in-store stock. As competitors grow more sophisticated, the importance of these omnichannel capabilities cannot be understated.

The stakes are high for specialty retailers. As the battle between specialty retailers and brands wages on, retailers must innovate their online and in-store experiences to survive. For more information, read the report here.