January 28, 2003, 12:00 AM

E-Tailing Group tells who leads online in customer service

Speedy reply to e-mails, quick path to checkout, fast delivery all add up to the Top 10 in customer service in the E-Tailing Group’s latest mystery shopper survey.

The e-retailers that made Chicago-based The E-tailing Group Inc.’s fifth annual Top 10 list based on fourth-quarter performance in customer service for 2002 are meeting increasingly stringent criteria as e-retail continues to evolve, according to the group’s president, Lauren Freedman.

“Overall, merchants were focused on better editing and execution of core customer service functionality,” Freedman says.

Making this year’s list, based on the experience of the E-tailing Group research team who mystery shopped 100 online merchants in 15 categories during last year’s fourth quarter, are Ashford.com, CDNow.com, CDW, Cooking.com, HPshopping.com, HSN, Lands’ End, Musician’s Friend, Office Depot and Wal-Mart.

Sites in the 100 reviewed were eliminated from consideration if they failed to meet specific requirements, such as enabling the shopper to complete shopping on the first attempt, offering a toll-free number, and responding to e-mail queries within 24 hours. Sites also were eliminated if they took longer than five days to ship an order, required more than five minutes to shop over a DSL connection, required more than six clicks to check out, or failed to list inventory status in the shopping cart or on the product page. Sites that did not provide online shipping status, order confirmation in the shopping cart and e-mail order confirmation including an order number also were eliminated.

Sites that met these criteria then received bonus points for features such as speedy order fulfillment. Leading in that category were CDW and Office Depot, which shipped their orders within a day. Sites recognized for increasing average order size by recommending additional products after the order confirmation process were CDNow, HPshopping.com, HSN and Lands’ End. Winning points for relationship-building by sending follow-up e-mails confirming shipment were Ashford.com, CDNow, CDW, Cooking.com, HPshopping.com, Musician’s Friend, and Wal-Mart.

Among the 100 sites surveyed, average response time between sending a customer service-related e-mail and receiving a response was 18.73 minutes. Musician’s Friend and CDW outperformed the average at 12 and 15 minutes, respectively. The longest response times were at WalMart.com at 20.3 hours and Cooking.com at 20.4 hours. The number of business days to receive an order averaged 4.4, slightly longer than last year’s average 3.8 days. CDW and Office Depot delivered in a day.

While the overall time to shop averaged just over 4 minutes, the process took only 3 minutes at CDW, Lands’ End and Wal-Mart. CDNow and Lands’ End led in fewest clicks from product to checkout; at three clicks each, they beat the average 4.93 clicks.

 

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