Few e-retailers overcome the "self-service paradox," which is failing to manage content for a good shopping experience after spending lots on marketing to draw consumers to their web sites, says Allen Bonde Group, a research and management consulting firm. The best brands at avoiding the paradox are Gateway Inc., Talbots Inc. and Kohl`s Illinois Inc., followed by runners-up Office Depot Inc., Williams-Sonoma Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., Allen Bonde says.
Allen Bonde bases these findings on a study of 57 leading retail web sites during the 2002 holiday shopping season. In conducting the study, Allen Bonde first isolated the 47 retailers whose web sites offered a search function. Then it used each of these sites` search functions to seek answers to three questions that might be asked by a typical consumer, but found few sites that could provide satisfactory responses to two or more of the questions.
For the first question, "What is your return policy?" only 28%, or 13 of the 47 sites, provided a relevant response.
For the second question, "How do I contact customer service?" 21%, or 10 sites, provided a relevant response. And only 17%, or 8 sites, produced a relevant response to the third question, "Do you sell gift certificates for less than $50?"
Overall, the study found that 36%, or 17 of the 47 sites with search functions, provided a relevant response to at least one of the test queries; 23%, or 11 sites, handled two out of three questions; and 6%, or 3 sites, responded well to all three queries.
Allen Bonde reports that Gateway, Talbots and Kohl`s were the only three that provided solid responses to all three questions. And it noted that Office Depot, Williams-Sonoma and Amazon provided the best responses among sites that responded to two out of three questions.
"There are many ways to organize and present information on a web site," said Peter Mooradian, one of the Allen Bonde authors of the study. "It was surprising how many of these sites had difficulty providing relevant information for the most basic questions. Part of this is clearly the limitations of key-word search, but mostly it`s just poor design."
Nermo Azamian, Gateway`s senior vice president of customer service and support, said Gateway.com enhanced its ability to support customers with its use of the iPhrase One Step search and navigation software from iPhrase Technologies. The software is designed to accept queries written in conversational language, such as "What is my order status?" and retrieve the most relevant content from multiple sections of Gateway.com.