November 6, 2008, 12:00 AM

L.L. Bean, Zappos and Lands’ End deliver just what the customer orders

L.L. Bean, Zappos and Lands’ End earned the highest marks from online shoppers in a recent Consumer Reports survey. The three retailers achieved top scores for accurate descriptions and an easy ordering and returns process.

Online retailers L.L. Bean, Zappos and Lands’ End earned the highest marks from online shoppers in a recent Consumer Reports survey of more than 25,000 consumers. The three standouts were top among the 39 apparel retailers in the study, offering accurate descriptions and sizing information, informative retail sites and an easy ordering and returns process.

The three retailers scored 92, 91 and 89 on a 100 point scale respectively. The polled surveyed consumers about their experiences during one or two purchases from the apparel retailers between January 2007 and June 2008. L.L. Bean is No. 23 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide; Zappos is No. 27. Lands’ is a unit of Sears Holdings Corp., No. 8.

A score of 100 for a merchant means all respondents were fully satisfied, 80 signified very satisfied; 60, stood for fairly well satisfied. On average, 85% of online consumers said they were very or completely satisfied with their online apparel shopping experience, Consumer Reports says.

Retailers faring not-so-well include Chadwick`s, with an overall score of 75, Haband 72, and Newport News 71. All three of the retailers received poor marks for the ordering process. Newport News is a unit of Spiegel Brands Inc., No. 56 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

For every four purchases, consumers returned or exchanged one item. Most of the time consumers were happy with the end result. Customers were unhappy with the outcome of their returns or exchanges 3% of the time. However, 15% noted the high cost of returning items.

Zappos scored high marks for returns because the retailer covers shipping costs for sending an item back. Consumer Reports notes that some e-retailers, such as L.L. Bean, offer free shipping and returns when consumers use their branded credit card. That retailer, along with many others, also accepts returns and exchanges in its bricks-and-mortar stores.

Finding out how much shipping will cost upfront was a problem for many respondents. Consumers revealed that in 28% of the purchases, the shipping fees were not posted until after they ordered. Retailers that excelled in making sure customers knew what they would pay for shipping before they checked out included Zappos, QVC, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and L.L. Bean.

Consumers over the age of 40 were on average more satisfied than those under 40. Also, respondents who had previously bought the same item were more apt to be completely satisfied (52%) than first time buyers (44%).

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