September 18, 2008, 12:00 AM

Even big brands overlook a good online customer experience, experts say

Providing a good online customer experience requires checking the many ways retailers serve their customers—including in e-mail and search marketing as well as through merchandising—but it`s a chore that even many major brands fail to do, experts say.

Providing a good online customer experience requires checking the many ways retailers connect with their customers-including in e-mail and search marketing as well as through online merchandising-but it`s a chore that even many major brands fail to do, experts said during a panel discussion at Shop.org this week.

The panel-Alison Jeske of Drugstore.com and Jay Shaffer of PowerReviews Inc., a provider of online customer reviews technology-reviewed online marketing and merchandising techniques of several online retailers, showing positive and negative results on an overhead screen.

In one example, they noted that Costco.com had apparently purchased a keyword phrase for the term "Garmin GPS review," for consumers researching what other consumers thought of Garmin GPS devices, but that clicking the related Costco link led to a page without any related consumer reviews.

They also noted that an e-mail offer from Buy.com, a text-only message offering a flash drive, came with a link to Buy`s home page, where the consumer had to scroll down to find information about the featured flash drive.

Jeske said that when she conducted an Internet search for back-to-school, a link to Walmart.com produced information on school uniforms but nothing on the school supplies she was seeking. The same search found a good range of school supplies on OfficeMax.com, but without any clear indication of any available savings to keep her from clicking to another site.

The Home Depot Inc. fared well in a colorful and image-friendly e-mail message featuring home products, but when an order was placed for a rug the retailer responded with a relatively cold, text-only message that simply indicated the order was canceled because the requested product was unavailable, "There was no attempt to make the consumer happy," Shaffer said.

Retail marketers should keep in mind six rules of providing a good online customer experience, Jeske said:
1. Consistency in marketing and merchandising offers across shopping channels
2. Accuracy of product and pricing information
3. Timeliness of offers
4. Relevance of offers to a customer¡¯s known interests
5. Value proposition
6. Walking in the customers` shoes by trying to see how a customer would view marketing and merchandising offers.

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