January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Only 3 E-retailers Get Top Marks from Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports Online, having studied 50 Internet merchants for six months, has assigned "excellent" ratings to only three sites: Garden.com, Amazon.com and eToys. Yet the company says most of the sites it studied could receive top ratings with a few basic improvements, such as changes in policies, usability, and content.

The company says policy statements should be straightforward and concise, as well-as consumer-friendly. Customers should be able to opt into practices of sharing their personal information with third parties, rather than the common practice of opting-out. Sites should have clear, intuitive navigation and a search engine that is flexible and well cross-referenced. And they offer worksheets, planners and shopping lists for quick reordering. "One important finding is that sites generally improve over time--but incrementally, not in huge leaps," says Anne McKay, community manager of Consumer Reports Online. "We noticed either the addition of useful interactive features or improved navigation, as well as updates at many sites, including new photos, notice of a current sale, and a different look."

McKay praised Toys "R" Us, L.L. Bean, Lillian Vernon, Toysmart, and J & R Music and Computer World for making such improvements.

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