Christmas has always been a critical time of year for retailers, but the shift in focus to online shopping has meant their websites are more essential than ever. According to the IMRG, UK shoppers carried out 57% of their Christmas shopping online this season - a huge opportunity for retailers to gain new customers, reward existing ones and provide a great experience - but did they deliver?

Every year in the run-up to Christmas, we carry out the ForeSee Online Retail Satisfaction Index across the UK’s top 40 online retailers. Roughly 10,000 shoppers are surveyed on their overall customer satisfaction and also their experience. With just Asda Direct, and the only online grocers making it into the top 10 (for customer satisfaction), the findings suggest improvements have been sluggish and all of the top 40 online retailers could be more effective and competitive if they focused on improving the customer experience.

UK online retailers are clearly providing customers with positive experiences in general, or customers would not be moving so decisively to online shopping. However, an increase in just one point on a 100-point scale (and this has happened for four consecutive years now) to an aggregate customer satisfaction score of 74 is simply not good enough.

“Real insight comes from measuring what you cannot see”

Any retailer registering an average or lower score is risking loyalty, recommendations, sales, and market share. By this measure, 29 of these leading UK retailers are underperforming online, including Sainsbury’s and Tesco Direct. While falling below average is definitely dangerous, a consistently average performance isn’t safe either. So Marks & Spencer would also do well to take a closer look at its customer experience strategy after dropping two points this year to a score of 75.

On the flipside, if we take a look at Asda Direct we can see it clearly put in the effort last year to make improvements. Up three points on 2011’s figure, the retailer scores 77 on a 100-point scale. also improved by two points to 76.

So what can retailers do to improve their customer experiences? Our recommendation would be to get even closer to the customer. Listen to them and be clever in your approach with well timed, relevant and non-invasive, actionable questions. Once they see the changes you’ve made to the site as a result, they’ll be more likely to help out again.

Also make sure your sites are mobile and tablet-optimised. This year is going to see growth across these channels go through the roof and retailers need a meaningful digital strategy for these shoppers. Having an app isn’t enough. You’ll need to be able to pull, analyse and act on data coming from the devices, otherwise you’ll fail to fulfil high customer expectations and lose the potential to deliver a better, more engaging experience.

In the year ahead, customers will have a plethora of choices about how to engage with you - or not. You’d do well to remember that real insight comes from measuring what you cannot see: it comes from understanding the customer.

Larry Freed is CEO of customer experience analytics provider ForeSee