February 4, 2004, 12:00 AM

They Like It

(Page 2 of 2)

Fulfillment is not that fulfilling. Overall, e-retailers score well for fulfillment, but not well enough. Delivery has the lowest score of any driver of satisfaction at 78. Evidence shows that this is where the loyalty chain can and does break down for many. The cost of delivery and the ability to track orders are passable in the eyes of customers, but in shaky territory. Too often, e-retailers disavow any real responsibility for delivery-and customers are not willing to let them get away with passing the buck to the Post Office, FedEx, or UPS. How and when shoppers get the goods play a significant role in how they evaluate their online shopping experience-and that cuts into the e-retailers’ loyalty and repeat business, no matter who is physically carrying the package to their door.

Intuitive though it may be, making incremental improvements to delivery will have the largest gains to overall satisfaction of online shoppers. According to our study, the areas that require the greatest attention are:

- Availability of desired delivery times

- Ease of order tracking

- Timeliness of order delivery.

Returns policies shouldn’t be hidden. Online shoppers also show concerns about the availability of information concerning online returns, rating satisfaction at only a 74. This is a problem that can lead to an unhappy customer, a loss of loyalty, and can also thwart a sale in the first place. Placing returns policies strategically outside the shopping cart can yield higher satisfaction and greater loyalty in the long run.

There is no doubt that customer expectations are rising as the e-retailing industry matures, and top e-retailers are, for the most part, keeping customers satisfied and loyal. But as more e-commerce web sites meet these higher standards, e-retailers will have to work harder to differentiate themselves in order to survive the competition.

Larry Freed is President & CEO of ForeSee Results, which uses the methodology of the American Customer Satisfaction Index developed at the University of Michigan to quantify the elements that drive online customer satisfaction and predict behavior. Retail clients have included Bluefly.com, Allposters.com, Tower Records, Border’s Books and Music, Cooking.com, Proflowers, and Danskin.

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