January 18, 2011, 2:19 PM

Sears, Abt and Foot Locker are among the customer service winners in a new study

Nine e-retailers are cited by an E-tailing Group study as tops for pleasing shoppers.

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Nine e-retailers are called out as providing best-in-class customer service in the new Mystery Shopping study from The E-tailing Group that will be released next month. The research and consulting firm secretly shopped 100 e-retail sites and assigned performance scores based on several criteria.

The e-retailers that deliver the best overall customer service are, in alphabetical order: 1-800-Flowers, No. 40 on Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide; Abt Electronics (No. 143); Coach (No. 164); Drs. Foster & Smith (No. 105); Foot Locker (No. 52); King Arthur Flour (No. 456); Lands’ End (owned by Sears, No. 8); Orvis (No. 124); and Saks Fifth Avenue (No. 45).

All 100 evaluated e-retailers were scored based on criteria that included keyword search capabilities on site, delivery times, customer service responsiveness to e-mail inquiries and how easy it is for consumers to find toll-free customer service numbers on home pages. The research group also evaluated the product knowledge of customer service agents, the number of clicks it takes to get to checkout, shipping and order confirmation e-mails and real-time inventory availability.

“Best-in-class customer service is essential as merchants look to differentiate themselves from their competition and capture greater market share,” says Lauren Freedman, president of The E-tailing Group.

The evaluations of the 100 e-retailers, in aggregate, did reveal areas in need of improvement. Compared with the same performance evaluation last year, the overall customer service experience rating, measured on a three-point scale, dropped from 2.37 to 2.24. Retailers also took an average of 4.26 business days to get a purchased item to the consumer this year, up from 4.05 business days last year.

E-retailers did, however, make improvements in areas such as payment methods and wish list availability. 40% of evaluated sites now offer payment via PayPal, up from 34% last year. 96% of merchants pre-populate returning customer information, up from 89%, and 41% of merchants make it possible to move items or an entire cart to a wish list, up from 32% last year.

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