April 9, 2001, 12:00 AM

Online retailers still need to work on customer service, a new study shows

Many online retailers miss the mark when it comes to retaining and satisfying their customers, but have improved in making delivery promises they can keep, according to the Second Annual Retail Web Study by the Retail Solutions group of Answerthink Inc.

Many online retailers miss the mark when it comes to retaining and satisfying their customers, but have improved in making delivery promises they can keep, according to the Second Annual Retail Web Study released today by the Retail Solutions group of e-business solutions vendor Answerthink Inc. The study looked at 150 retail web sites. It compared six categories: Customer Service, Ease of Shopping, Ease of Ordering, Ease of Order Processing and Tracking, Delivery Experience and the Return Experience. Only three retailers -- Best Buy, Home Depot and Osh Kosh -- achieved the highest ranking in the survey.

"Retailers have made it easier this year to find the item and price that consumers are looking for," said Ken Goldberg, managing director of Retail Solutions for Answerthink. "In addition, the ability to check on orders via e-mail and the web with help from third-party providers has improved dramatically."

However, many online retailers are still failing to connect with their customers and have missed opportunities to personalize their web sites, Answerthink says. For example, many sites fail to incorporate customer service tools such as frequently used shipping addresses and billing information, and services such as the ability to access a gift registry and product availability. "Interactive web chats, web phones and scanning technologies resonate with consumers, but most online retailers still ignore them," Goldberg said. "Retailers also fail to incorporate a virtual sale area for special merchandise savings that customers typically find at a brick-and-mortar store."

The survey`s objective was to identify best practices, industry trends and new ideas based on the review of the 150 web sites. The sites were shopped in two ways -- a typical order run and a Christmas rush order placed on the deadlines set by the web site.

The study concluded that 87% of the sites offer a simple "No Questions Asked" return policy. In addition, 92% of the retailers provide a consistent shopping experience across the web compared to the other channels they operate in, and 71% offer multiple shipping options. Barnes & Noble, the Disney Store, JCPenney and Pottery Barn achieved high marks for creating solid retail web sites that enhance strong and identifiable brands.

The last-minute Christmas rush also produced better results in 2000 than in 1999. Only 10 out of 75 online retailers missed the delivery deadline, according to the survey.

When it comes to customer service, however, the sites need significant Improvement, the study says. For instance, only two of the sites from last year`s study improved in ranking. In addition, the study found that only 39% of the sites offer online loyalty programs, 44R offer gift certificates, 33% offer date and reminder service, and 21% offer a gift registry. "Very few retailers have made the connection between content, customer service and loyalty," Goldberg said. "Emerging technologies support the notion that available and appropriate online content are a de facto proxy for in-store customer service. Retailers have shown progress with their web sites, and we expect to see renewed emphasis on content as a driver of loyalty."

 

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