November 24, 2004, 12:00 AM

Crutchfield.com wins in Future Now’s online retail excellence study

In a review of objectively-measured aspects of the online experience, Crutchfield scores 80 of 100 possible points. Helping shoppers meet their objectives on a site means sales, says Future Now.

The online customer experience consists of many elements, some of them subjective in nature. But other variables of customers’ experience on a retail site-such as whether a site provides adequate product descriptions or gives shipping and tax charges early in the checkout process-can be quantified. On these aspects of how well a site meets customers’ needs, as measured from the time the shopper identifies a product to be purchased, Crutchfield.com scored the highest in the 2004 Online Retail Study for Customer Focused Excellence by online marketing firm Future Now Inc.

Out of a possible 100 points that represent the total of weighted values assigned to 45 data points collected from retail sites by Future Now, Crutchfield.com scored 80%. Others in the 10 top-scoring sites include Diamond.com, which scored 78%; SportsAuthority.com and Amazon.com, both at 74%; Dell.com at 73%; Cooking.com at 70%; Walmart.com, EbGames.com and CircuitCity.com at 69%; and TigerDriect.com at 68%.

Noting that the mystery shoppers that searched for the data points on the 140 sites surveyed were asked to ignore elements such as design and other subjectively perceived criteria, Future Now underscores that its study reviewed only objective criteria about how well the sites helped customers meet their objectives. The marketing firm “strongly believes that the amount of attention lavished on becoming customer-focused translates into more sales long-term,” the report notes.

Among other findings, the report shows evolution in that direction on several fronts. For example, 76% of retailers offered gift certificates this year, versus 65% last year, the survey`s first year. 86% estimated delivery times this year, compared to 73% last year; while 68% offered the option of phoning in payment for online orders vs. 57% last year. On some other indicators, however, online retailers overall lost ground. Only 35% offered multiple image views of products this year compared with 38% last year, for example, while 35% offered free shipping versus 37% last year.

“The study reflects significant factors that customers have come to expect,” notes the study report. “In the long run, customers vote with their dollars for companies that have an intense focus on satisfying their customers’ needs.”

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