January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

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E-retailers are rating customer service, fulfillment and on-time delivery high in their priorities as they prepare for the holiday season, according to a new study by Gomez Advisors. Customer service ranks tops, with 88% of e-retailers surveyed reporting that they are investing to improve this aspect of their online offering. Their strategies range from outsourcing call center operations to increasing service staff to adding site enhancements such as live chat. A total of 77% of e-retailers polled view on-time delivery as a critical issue this year; one they are addressing with strategies such as seeking service-level agreements with shippers. They're also tackling the fulfillment issue by posting a "last day to shop" notice on their sites, after which delivery by Christmas won't be guaranteed. About 84% of pure-play e-retailers surveyed and 88% of the click-and-mortar respondents are posting the notices, which vary widely but have an average date of December 17.

"E-retailers are focused on investments in infrastructure that will ensure the viability of their businesses and improve the customer experience," says Jeff Quinn, senior analyst in retail e-commerce for Lincoln, Mass.-based Gomez. "This differs greatly from last year's approach, which involved huge investments in advertising and expensive brand-building campaigns."

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