September 24, 2003, 12:00 AM

Retailers` treatment of online customers is getting better, new study says

Retailers’ online operations are showing customers more respect than they were six months ago, reports The Customer Respect Group. The company reports that the Customer Respect Index for retailers rose from 6.8 on a scale of 10 six months ago to 7.2.


Retailers’ online operations are showing their customers more respect than they were six months ago, reports The Customer Respect Group, a research and consulting firm that focuses on how corporations treat their customers online. The company reports that the Customer Respect Index for retailers rose from 6.8 of 10 in the winter 2003 index to 7.2 in the current index.

The index is made up of 25 attributes that the company sorts into six groups: privacy (respects customer privacy), principles (values and respects customer data), attitude (customer-focus of site), transparency (open and honest policies), simplicity (ease of navigation), and responsiveness (quick and thorough responses to inquiries). The company tested the sites of retail organizations that rank among the 500 largest U.S. companies.

The biggest improvement in the index was in responsiveness, with specialty retailers improving from a CRI of 5.5 to 7.7. Other retailers moved from 5.7 to 6.7. Still, the company reports, a full one-quarter of retailers in that group don`t respond to online inquiries. That is an improvement however, more than a third in the winter survey.

"Overall, we`re pleased to see higher scores, particularly in the area of responsiveness," said Terri McNulty, CEO of The Customer Respect Group. "Retailers and Specialty Retailers need to pay more attention to how they use personal data and provide online customers with better and easier control over their information. With the holiday season approaching, the stakes are simply too high to ignore customers` online experiences."

In the responsiveness area, of the three-fourths of surveyed retailers that responded to e-mail inquiries, 77% did so within 48 hours, 10% respond within 72 hours and 13% respond after 72 hours. Only 31% use auto-response technology, which automatically e-mails users to confirm the receipt of their inquiry and let them know when they should expect a response. Of these, 81% followed with a full response. 87% of companies provide e-mail forms for online inquiries, 11% provide e-mail addresses, 2% provide only offline contact information.

Among retail sites, the Customer Respect Group ranked retailers as follows: Lowe`s Companies, Inc., 9.0
The Gap Inc., 9.0
Target Corp., 9.0
Circuit City Stores Inc., 9.0
Foot Locker Inc., 8.9
CVS Corp., 8.9
Walgreen Co., 8.9
Federated Department Stores Inc., 8.8
J.C. Penney Co. Inc., 8.7
Albertson`s Inc. 8.7,
Costco Wholesale Corp., 8.6
RadioShack Corp., 8.6
Barnes & Noble Inc., 8.6
Rite Aid Corp., 8.5
Staples Inc., 8.5
Amazon.Com Inc., 8.5
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 8.4
Dillard`s Inc., 8.4
The TJX Cos. Inc., 8.4
Limited Brands Inc., 8.3
OfficeMax Inc., 8.2
W.W. Grainger Inc., 8.2
The Neiman Marcus Group Inc., 8.0
The Home Depot Inc., 7.9
Sears Roebuck and Co., 7.8
Fisher Scientific International Inc., 7.7
Toys R Us Inc., 7.7
Kmart Corp., 7.6
Office Depot Inc., 7.6
Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., 7.6
Publix Super Markets, Inc., 7.5
BJ`s Wholesale Club Inc., 7.5
Advance Auto Parts Inc., 7.1
Dollar General Corp., 6.9
Best Buy Co. Inc., 6.4
Safeway Inc., 6.4
Longs Drug Stores Corp., 6.4
Kohl`s Corp., 6.3
The Kroger Co., 6.2
Big Lots Inc., 6.0
Pathmark Stores, Inc., 6.0
Ace Hardware, 5.9
Nordstrom Inc., 5.7
Ross Stores Inc., 5.6
ShopKo Stores Inc., 5.4
Borders Group Inc., 5.3
Saks Inc., 4.9
Family Dollar Stores Inc., 4.7
AutoZone Inc., 4.0
Wesco International Inc., 3.6
Genuine Parts Co., 3.4
The May Department Stores Co., 3.4
Hughes Supply Inc., 2.9
Industry Average, 7.2


Other findings for the retail sector include:
• Surveyed firms receive the best overall rating (CRI: 8.0) for Simplicity and the worst (CRI: 6.1) for Principles.
• 57% provide a keyword search function on their site.
• 85% have privacy policies on their sites explaining how customers` personal data is being used.
• While 68% use cookies, 25% of them don`t explain how they can be disabled. Only 2% use cookies without providing a privacy policy. And 25% use cookies, have a privacy policy, but don`t provide an explanation of how to disable cookies.


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