March 7, 2003, 12:00 AM

Retailers still not great at web-based response, study says

A full 37% of retail chains contacted through their web sites never responded to e-mail queries, the same as failed in the prior survey, Customer Respect Group reports.

Retail chains’ online customer service hasn’t improved much in the past six months, says the Winter 2003 Online Customer Respect Study from research and consulting firm The Customer Respect Group. A full 37% of retail chains contacted through their web sites never responded to e-mail queries, the same as failed in the prior survey, Customer Respect Group reports. “If 37% of companies refused to answer questions from customers in a physical store, that would be considered unacceptable,” says Donal Daly, Customer Respect Group CEO. “The same should be true for an online store.”

The Customer Respect Group today released the results of it Retail and Specialty Retail sectors surveys. The company reported that 63% of specialty retailers responded within 48 hours. Among general-merchandise retail chains, 52% responded within 48 hours, 4% within 72 hours and 7% took longer.

"The quality of e-commerce sites has definitely improved over the past few years and millions of dollars have been spent on design and backend systems," Daly says. "Unfortunately retailers still seem to lack the basics.”

The Customer Respect Group identifies 25 attributes that create the online customer experience. It groups these attributes into privacy (respects customer privacy); principles (values and respects customer data); attitude (`body language` of site); transparency (open and honest policies); simplicity (customer-focused usable site); and responsiveness (quick and thorough responses to inquiries). It bases its research on looking at more than 500 web sites. It then assigns a Customer Respect Index to each company.

The highest ranked organization within the Retail sector was Walgreen at 9.4 (out of 10), while the lowest was Core Mark International at 1.9. The retail sector`s average was 6.7. In Specialty Retail, the highest ranked organization was Costco and the lowest was United Auto Group at 3.4. The specialty sector`s average was 7.

Here’s how the group ranked retail chains:
Walgreen Co. 9.4
Dollar General Corporation 9.3
Nordstrom, Inc. 9.3
Dillard`s Inc. 9.3
J.C. Penney Company, Inc. 9.0
Kohl`s Corporation 8.9
Rite Aid Corporation 8.9
Federated Department Stores, Inc. 8.6
Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. 8.3
CVS Corporation 8.3
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. 7.2
Publix Super Markets, Inc. 7.2
W.W. Grainger, Inc. 7.2
The Kroger Company 7.1
Kmart Corporation 6.8
Sears Roebuck and Company 6.7
Safeway Inc. 6.6
Longs Drug Stores Corporation 6.1
Target Corporation 6.0
Pathmark Stores, Inc. 5.8
Albertson`s, Inc. 5.8
Wesco International, Inc. 4.6
The May Department Stores Company 3.6
Family Dollar Stores, Inc. 2.8
Saks, Incorporated 2.7
Genuine Parts Company 2.6
Core-Mark International, Inc. 1.9
Industry Average 6.7


Other findings for retailers include the following:
• Retail companies receive the best overall rating (7.9) for simplicity and the worst (5.7) for responsiveness.
• Only 37% use auto-response technology, in which e-mails are automatically sent back to users to confirm receipt and let them know when they should expect a response. Of these, 4% don`t follow up with a personalized message.
• 96% provide an electronic method of contact; 85% provide e-mail forms; 11% list an e-mail address.
• 81% have privacy policies on their sites.


Among specialty retailers, Customer Respect Group rated them as follows:
Costco Wholesale Corporation 9.3
Toys `R` Us, Inc. 9.0
The Home Depot, Inc. 9.0
Best Buy Co. Inc. 8.9
Staples, Inc. 8.8
Foot Locker, Inc. 8.8
Lowe`s Companies, Inc. 8.7
Amazon.Com Inc. 8.7
Barnes & Noble Inc. 8.7
The Gap, Inc. 8.6
Circuit City Stores, Inc. 8.5
The Limited, Inc. 8.1
AutoZone, Inc. 6.8
AutoNation, Inc. 6.7
BJ`s Wholesale Club, Inc. 6.5
Big Lots, Inc. 6.3
RadioShack Corporation 6.3
OfficeMax, Inc. 6.2
Mattel, Inc. 5.7
Office Depot, Inc. 5.7
Shopko Stores, Inc. 5.6
Borders Group, Inc. 5.1
The TJX Companies, Inc. 4.1
Group 1 Automotive Inc. 3.9
Sonic Automotive, Inc. 3.6
United Auto Group, Inc. 3.4
Industry Average 7.0


Other findings for specialty retailers include:
• Best overall rating (8) for simplicity and worst (5.5) for responsiveness.
• Only 29% use auto-response technology, while 4% didn`t follow up with a personalized message.
• 92% provide an electronic method of contact; 73% provide e-mail forms; 19% list an e-mail address.
• 81% have privacy policies on their sites.

“The majority of companies in this sector use the web as a sales channel,” Daly says. “They should know that over 60% of online consumers decide not to buy because they are unsure as to how their personal data might be used. In the retail sector, online customer respect has a direct impact on revenues."


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