Internet Marketing

Canada's Worst Retailers: Customer Service through Social Media

06. 03. 2012

In January 2012, one of Canada's consumer watchdog's, Marketplace, conducted a survey to indicate Canada's Worst Customer Service retailers. The research was conducted via surveys and in-store mystery shoppers.  They found that the worst customer service retailers were Zellers, Canadian Tire and Walmart Canada in this order.

9th sphere, who consults and works with companies to navigate their way around social media and internet marketing, conducted its own research to evaluate if the same results may be found online. Looking at the customer service results with an online perspective, we wondered: How would this translate to a customer's online experience?  If a company's culture was not customer centric, would the same results be found if evaluated through an online experience or would it be different?

The focus of the research was on how these retailers use the internet (website, social media, and other online tools) to address customer service problems.

Walmart Canada's online approach promoted customer support over the phone and email.  Walmart USA has an online application to handle customer service requests; however, this was not the case observed for their Canadian presence. They did have a Twitter profile and YouTube channel, but not a Facebook page.

Zellers also offered customer support over the phone and email. We saw the use of social media for promotional purposes through their Facebook page and Twitter account.  They also have a YouTube Channel.

Canadian Tire's customer service provides support over the telephone and via email. They also have a Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube Channel.  They recently disabled the "view all" functionality on their Facebook page, which prevented us from seeing older comments posted by customers.

Overall, through the different online tools, the most revealing source for evaluating customer service online was a corporate Facebook page. Facebook pages offer sufficient space to share information, ask questions and express concerns. Compared to other social media channels, it has highest level of social visibility. In comparison, Twitter allows 140 symbols to express a customer service experience and it offers limited ability for an observer to track @mentions and #hashtags for brands.

Due to the volume of users and the features available, Facebook provided the most insight and transparency to issues related to customer service.  Facebook also provides a more efficient means to evaluate responses when compared to other social media sites, since we could see the posts and related responses.

Many other social media sites, like Twitter or other ratings/reviews sites, either didn't have official company responses or the same level of transparency. This made Facebook our primary tool with which to evaluate the level of customer service and social media.

For the purpose of our investigation, we defined customer service as anything posted on a social media outlet that involves a complaint, concern, or question. Anything that called for a company representative to respond we categorized as customer service.  Many posts were related to coupons or online games/contests.

A common theme we found was the lack of knowledge between online and in-store promotions between websites.

Let's break down our findings for each Canadian retailer.

Canadian Tire:

  • Largest amount of Facebook Fans, also longest user
  • 22% of posts are Fans comments
  • Approximately 24% of wall posts can be categorized as related to customer service
  • Approximately 13% of these were responded to by a company rep
  • Most questions answered within 3 hours


  • Has had the largest increase in number of new fans: 22%
  • 28.5% of posts are Fans comments
  • Approximately 30% of wall posts can be categorized as related to customer service
  • Approximately 80% of these were responded to by a company rep
  • Approximately 30% of requests answered in less than 90min.

Walmart Canada:

  • No Facebook page to review

Our findings would conclude that the worst online customer service experience would be Walmart Canada as they lack any online vehicles to resolve customer service issues. In our evaluation, Canadian Tire would come next and we would rate Zellers as having the best online customer service experience.  We rated Zellers as the best of the three due to their commitment to respond to customer's issues in a timely manner.

Interestingly, the experience found by Marketplace in the retail stores was not the same experience that we evaluated online. This leads us to determine that a company may be stronger using online customer service tools rather than the in-store alternatives. It seems many companies are taking the opportunity to combine both social media and customer service to help customers in a more efficient way.

Could this result in a shift towards companies directing customers through tools in which they excel? Perhaps Zellers, for example, could gain value in encouraging their customers to share their experiences online, where they are committed to timely responses to the issues of their shoppers. Only time will tell, but the volumes of people using online tools, like social media, will surly force companies to get their act together and use these tools to the maximum capability.

What do you think about companies using social media for customer service?

PS: Thanks Dilyan for your assistance on sifting through the mounds of data!

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