March 13, 2007, 12:00 AM

Online retailers continue to outshine chains in customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction with Internet retailers for Q4 2006 hit 83, up 2.5% from 81 in 2005 on the 100-point satisfaction index from ForeSee Results/ACSI. Customer satisfaction with chains registered 74.4, up 2.8% from 72.4 for the same period in 2005.

When it comes to customer satisfaction, Internet stores can stick their tongues out at bricks-and-mortar shops, according to ForeSee Results’ and the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index. For the fourth quarter of 2006, customer satisfaction with retail chains registered 74.4 on the 100-point satisfaction index, up 2.8% from 72.4 for the same period in 2005.

Online retail, however, received one of the index’s highest ratings since ForeSee Results and the university’s Ross School of Business began measuring e-commerce as part of the index--which launched in 1994--in 2001. Customer satisfaction with Internet retail for Q4 2006 hit 83, up 2.5% from 81 in 2005.

The organizations use web-based and e-mail surveys randomly distributed to consumers; for e-commerce they collected 4,500 completed surveys.

Traditional online metrics-monthly unique visitors, page views, cart abandonment, conversion rate, average ticket, site performance and others-are easy to measure and helpful, and e-retailers always will need them at hand, says Larry S. Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, a research firm that specializes in online customer satisfaction.

“But there’s a huge void within these measurements-they cannot tell you customers’ perceptions, expectations and intentions,” Freed says. “And to be successful, an e-commerce site must understand the intentions of its customers.” It’s the combination of traditional metrics with intention, attitude and expectation metrics, Freed says, that can show e-retailers what their customers want in an e-commerce site experience.

In answer, some retailers are leaning heavily on technology because with the quickly changing and ever-evolving nature of the Internet and the maturation of e-commerce, they must to be competitive, Freed adds. The answers to date: conducting web-based or e-mail surveys, using predictive behavioral testing and targeting, culling social networking content, and deploying other new technologies.

In the grand scheme of things it’s very difficult to determine what consumers like based on traditional web analytics data, says Alex Willcock, founder of Imagini Holdings Ltd., an online consumer research and technology development firm. Microsoft Corp.’s MSN network is using Imagini’s Visual DNA technology to better understand network users and their motivations for being there-via consumer testing with images not words-and implement findings in an attempt to ensure the right users are getting the right message in ads and content.

“Conventional analytics basically just tell you the areas people visited on the site,” Willcock contends. “They don’t tell you a person’s style.”

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