September 11, 2006, 12:00 AM

Four retailers among the top 10 in online customer respect list

Four retailer sites ranked in the top 10 of the 100 largest companies based on how well they treat their customers online: Sears, Hewlett-Packard, CVS and Wal-Mart.


Four retailer sites ranked in the top 10 of the 100 largest companies based on how well they treat their customers online. On a 10-point scale, Sears Roebuck & Co. had a Customer Respect Index rating of 7.9, while Hewlett-Packard Co. had a 7.6 rating, according to The Customer Respect Group.

Also ranking in the top 10 were CVS Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which each earned a 7.1 rating. The average rating across all sites was 5.7. Sites are judged based on ease of use, communication and trust.

The study found that U.S. companies appear to be gathering more personally identifiable information but are sharing less personal data with outside organizations. However, more than half continued to send unsolicited marketing e-mails to those who supply personal information for other reasons.

In communication, companies made good strides towards answering e-mail queries but only 13 companies were able to consistently send helpful replies within 24 hours, according to the report. There was a 5 percentage point fall (to 53%) in the number of responses that were sent within a day and the number of e-mails ignored increased slightly from 15% to 17%. However, there were marked increases in the number of replies that were helpful.

Privacy policies also are easier to understand, the report says. 54% of companies now clearly explain their opt-out or opt-in policies, and 52% do so for data sharing.

However, the largest 100 continue to be slow in adopting generally accepted web guidelines to make sites more accessible to users with disabilities. Only 14% provide text in navigation buttons in strongly contrasting colors and only 42% created a tag description for every image on the home page.

“Retailers see online customers as strong business prospects-more than any other industry,” says Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group. “However, there is growing concern among users about the integrity of their personal information. While price and value still rank highest in choosing vendors, trust is becoming a major factor, especially because customer loyalty is limited in the retail industry. This might start to affect click-through and conversion rates.”


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