May 22, 2007, 12:00 AM

Survey shows what keeps shoppers loyal to merchants

A survey by DoubleClick Performics and The e-Tailing Group Inc. finds price a key–but not the only–factor that brings shoppers back to sites they’ve visited or shopped before.

Price is one reason consumers stay loyal to online merchants – but it’s not the only factor. A survey by DoubleClick Performics and The e-Tailing Group Inc. found that 48% of the online shoppers surveyed were “somewhat loyal” to merchants across channels based on a combination that includes good value, superior store service and the right mix of products.

The survey focused on what factors affect consumer loyalty to merchants across channels and the extent of participation in loyalty programs. “DoubleClick Performics has a deep understanding of how to engage consumers online, and when it comes to loyalty and rewards programs, this research shows consumers often seek the best value,” said Stuart Frankel, president of DoubleClick Performics.

Rewards customers, defined as those belonging to two or more rewards programs, are less apt to be focused on price, instead responding to tools and features that enhance the multi-channel shopping experience. The survey also determined that men were less loyal to merchants and women were more likely to register at a merchant site or be influenced by promotional e-mail, according to Lauren Freedman, president, the e-Tailing Group.

Though price was not the sole driver of loyalty, it was a frequently cited point of interest among survey respondents. The promotional tactic of totally free or conditional free shipping ranked the highest among survey respondents. Asked to rate 25 features on a scale of one to five or one to 10 in terms of their importance in bringing them back to a web site they had visited or shopped previously, 92% of respondents rated this feature “very important” or “important.” All other cost-saving features, such as rebates and coupons or exclusive deals for program members, were ranked as very important or important by 75% or more of survey respondents.

Customer service features were the second most highly-rated set of features, with 88% rating online order tracking very important or important, and 84% assigning the same ratings to guarantees or privacy policies. Within the content and tools feature set, customer ratings and reviews came in highest, with 74% rating this feature very important or important, and 72% assigning very important or important ratings to product comparison.

Frequent buyer features were deemed less important than other features by survey respondents, with “coupons sent frequently for a percent off products” ranking the highest, receiving a very important or important rating from 67% of survey respondents.

Asked to rank their loyalty to any of 280 specific online merchants, survey respondents named most frequently, in descending order, Amazon, eBay, Overstock.com, QVC and Wal-Mart, with Amazon by far receiving the most mentions, according to Freeman.

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