January 23, 2013, 4:09 PM

Top retailers improve their service skills

Zappos and Frontgate repeat as customer service leaders in an annual study.

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More online merchants are giving consumers more options when it comes to customer service, and presenting those options more clearly on their e-commerce sites, The E-tailing Group finds in the latest edition of its annual mystery shopping study. The study analyzes the customer service options and performance of 100 top online retailers and was conducted during the fourth quarter of 2012.

The study analyzed and ranked retailers on multiple points, including how well customer service agents handle telephone inquiries and the visibility of the toll-free number, the time it takes to respond to a question via e-mail, how fast a consumer can move through the checkout flow and the time elapsed from order to delivery.

The 100 e-retailers analyzed showed year-over-year improvements across most of the metrics studied. For example, 80% of the retailers featured their phone numbers on their home pages versus 75% who did so a year earlier. 77% of the retailers showed the stock status of items in consumers’ shopping carts versus 66% who did so in 2011.

Retailers are also simplifying the return process, with fewer (15%) requiring that consumers contact them before initiating a return than was the case in 2011 (22%). And slightly more merchants this year, 55% versus 51%, provide consumers with prepaid shipping labels to simplify return shipping.

Shoe e-retailer Zappos.com and outdoor furniture retailer Frontgate.com were among the nine retailers the study cited for their customer service acuity. They are the only two retailers to make the top nine two years in a row, The E-tailing Group says. Zappos.com is a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide. Frontgate is a unit of Cornerstone Brands, which is owned by HSN Inc., No. 26.

The top nine retailers on average responded to customer e-mails in about 3.5 hours versus an average of 21 hours and 42 minutes for the top 100. They also delivered packages within an average of 2.2 business days versus 3.7 for the 100.

Overall, more of the 100 analyzed retailers also offered eBay Inc.’s PayPal as a payment option, 56% versus 46%.

The top nine retailers in alphabetical order, with their or their parent company’s Internet Retailer Top 500 rank, are:

• Crutchfield Corp. (No. 123)

• Foot Locker Inc. (No. 54)

• Frontgate (No. 26)

• Godiva Chocolatier Inc. (No. 273)

• Office Depot Inc. (No. 6)

• Room & Board (NA)

• Saks Fifth Avenue (No. 38)

• Victoria’s Secret (No. 19)

• Zappos (No. 1)

 

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