September 12, 2006, 12:00 AM

Customer service and product selection falling short in retail, study finds

In an Accenture consumer survey, consumers complained of limited selection and poor customer service in stores. One implication: To the extent online retail can deliver on those fronts, it gains an advantage.


Though deemed the most influential factors in the decision on where to purchase, product selection and customer service in stores fall short in the eyes of a significant number of consumers, a survey by management consulting company Accenture found. And one implication of those findings is that to the extent online retailers can deliver on those fronts, they’ll enjoy an advantage.


The July survey of 575 consumers determined that while 72% of those polled said customer service had a significant influence on whether or not they make a purchase, 54% said helpful customer service is lacking in stores and 58% said stores didn’t have enough salespeople available to help them. And while 72% also said product selection is a key factor in deciding where to shop, 38% said limited selection in stores is a common problem.


Other survey findings suggest online retail is already ahead in efforts to offer better product selection and customer service. For example, 98% of consumers surveyed said they need product information before or while purchasing a product, but only 48% said they were able to obtain this information most of the time. By contrast, 61% said it was easy to find product information online and 63% said it was easy to compare product information online.


Two-thirds of those surveyed also complained that the stores they frequent do nothing to reward their loyalty, yet 55% said the online retailers they patronize reward their loyalty with benefits such as special promotions. The survey also determined that the same number-54%-said customer service was bad online as well as in stores. And 57% said that when they shop online, they do so primarily for convenience, while 45% said they shop online primary to buy products they can get only online.

Accenture conducted the survey in connection with the launch in Chicago of the second of planned three centers in the Accenture Customer Innovation Network. The centers showcase new technologies and services to help clients improve their business performance.


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