October 25, 2002, 12:00 AM

Retail leads in knowing how to relate to customers over the web, study says

The retail industry leads all industries in a new measure of the degree to which web sites respect customers, says a study of Fortune 100 web sites by CustomerRespect.com. The retailing sector scored 7.8 out of 10 in six areas.

The retail industry leads all industries in a new measure of the degree to which web sites respect customers. "Overall the retail sector was a pleasure to deal with," Donal Daly, CEO of CustomerRespect.com and author of the report "Online Customer Respect: Study of Fortune 100 Companies, tells InternetRetailer.com.

The retailing sector’s overall score of 7.8 out of 10 in six areas, however, still falls short of what Daly believes is the minimum score an industry should earn to be truly meeting the needs of customers. "People should be trying to get north of 8.5," Daly says. "In the retail sector, there’s not a lot they’d have to do to get there." The average for the Fortune 100 companies’ web sites was 6.5.

CustomerRespect.com, a division of consultants International Ventures Research, measured Fortune 100 web sites on 25 attributes in six categories: privacy, principles, attitude, transparency, simplicity and responsiveness. Areas that need improvement include responsiveness (how quickly and accurately they responded to e-mail inquiries), where a third of the retailers studied earned less than 6 out of 10, and principles (policies about such issues as data usage and opt-in/opt-out).

In terms of responsiveness, Albertson’s took four days to reply to an e-mail request, K mart took three days and CVS did not respond at all to two inquiries, Daly reports.

Costco earned the highest ranking of retail sites, with scores of 10 in transparency, that is, how well a site communicates corporate policies about usage of customer data and other items; attitude, which measures the tone of the wording on a site, how easy it is to contact the company, and whether the site invites customers to return and solicits feedback; and responsiveness.

In not responding to e-mail inquiries, CVS may have been alone in the retail sector, but it was far from alone on the web. Daly says a full 37 of the 100 sites tested never responded to e-mail inquiries. The study also found that 45% of sites force customers to opt out if they don`t wish to receive e-mails from them; 15% sell customer data without seeking permission to do so; 83% offer no auto-response function to notify customers that their communication has been received and will be acted upon.

Daly argues that to be successful long-term, organizations must pay more attention to online visitors. "Customers whose predilection is toward Internet usage are likely to have a greater lifetime value to an organization because they are younger," he says. "Fortune 100 firms should live by this motto: Get them early and build brand loyalty."

Retailers in the study are Albertson’s Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp., CVS Corp., Home Depot Inc., J.C. Penney Co., K mart Corp., Kroger Co., Lowe’s Cos. Inc., Safeway Inc., Sears, Roebuck and Co., Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.


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