Cyber Weekend 2016: What Were the Biggest Takeaways for Retailers?

The Cyber weekend 2016 data is in, and retailers have two big reasons to celebrate.  

First, it was a good year for retail sales.

On Black Friday, shoppers spent $3.34 billion online (21.6 percent more than in 2015). According to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, more people bought online over the four-day shopping period than in store (108.5 million versus 99.1 million). Mobile sales, in fact, were up 33 percent over last year.

Second, the industry is serious about customer service response times—and it shows.

From Black Friday through Cyber Monday, we audited contact center performance of the 30 retail brands in our StellaService Index. We focused specifically on total time to live agent, or the wait we experienced when we attempted to contact the brands by live chat and phone. We also compared our Cyber weekend data with the data we collected in the pre-holiday period.

Overall, we were impressed with what we found.

What the Customer Service Data Show

Here’s the first bit of good news for retail shoppers: more and more brands are offering live chat throughout the weekend. This year, 90 percent of the StellaService Index brands offered chat—an uptick of 10 percent over last year. Further, retailers offering chat were 5% more available in 2016 than they were a year ago. Nearly all our top performers made chat available all weekend long.

Response times for phone and chat were similar to those we recorded in 2015, but they have slowed a bit. Customer service is still lightning fast among our top performers, however, and these speeds are only getting faster. Our top three chat performers for 2016 (Home Depot, Estee Lauder, and Lowe’s) all came in at 13 seconds or less, beating last year’s #1 performer (Target, 17 seconds).  

In fact, our top performers for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the entire weekend crushed the industry averages for phone and chat response times. For example:

  • For the four-day period, the average phone response time was 114 seconds (a bit slower than last year’s 101 seconds). But L.L. Bean, our top performer in this category, averaged 8 seconds.
  • The average wait for a live agent via chat was 65 seconds (one second faster than last year). Home Depot led the pack with an average response time of just 11 seconds.

The brands that scored near the bottom skewed our Index averages quite a bit. Overall brands we attempted to contact by phone couldn’t get to us in under 10 minutes 6% of the time (versus 10 percent last year, which is good news). Meanwhile, brands in the Index couldn’t respond to chats within 10 minutes five percent of the time.

Cyber Weekend Shoppers’ Wish List for Brands

Brands that deliver excellent customer service on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all weekend long know their strengths and limits and what their customers value most. Here’s what you can learn from them—and what you should concentrate on before next year’s rush.


It’s important to manage customer expectations during this busy time. Customers know the holiday rush brings heavier call and chat volumes, and they understand; they just want the honest truth about their own wait times.

Rather than announcing the customer’s number in the contact center queue (a high number might suggest a long wait, even if that’s not the case), provide an estimated wait time: “We’ll be with you in 2-5 minutes.”

For buy online, pickup in store, you’ll likely need to make temporary changes (delayed pickup times, for example) to accommodate the surge in both brick-and-mortar and online shoppers in your stores. Give your customers timely information about their orders, and make sure they know exactly what to expect.


During several of our brand audits, we spoke with customer service agents who couldn’t explain why products weren’t available for in-store pickup but were available several days later via ship to store. Customers expect the same degree of knowledge and quality of service across all brand channels—365 days a year. Keep your customer service agents up to speed on temporary policy changes so they can clear up any confusion (rather than add to it).

Quality Assurance

If your contact center reps are overwhelmed during the holiday rush (i.e., time to live agent exceeds 10 minutes), your best bet is to temporarily suspend the underperforming channel(s) and focus on delivering better service elsewhere. Your customers won’t mind; they’ll gladly use whatever channel is available to them, so long as they can connect with the brand in a reasonable amount of time and get their issues resolved.

Goal Setting for 2017

How should you benchmark your own service performance? If you present yourself as a service leader, or you hope to become one, focus on the industry’s top performers. Otherwise, focus on meeting or exceeding the industry average. You could also set a concrete service goal, such as an 80% of customers reach live agents within 30 or 60 seconds. It’s important to set reasonable goals. Focus on your direct competitors, and aim to meet or beat their performance—and to improve your own, year after year.