June 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Kings of Contentment

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For example, everyone knows Amazon. It's no surprise that the web retailer leads the Top 100 and managed to significantly improve upon last year's already high score (89 this year, compared to 86 last year). Amazon led the pack by one point last year, and that gap has widened to four points—statistically speaking, they are now in their own tier above all of the other players.

Smaller retailers lag

The truth is that every consumer who has visited Amazon knowingly or unknowingly benchmarks all other experiences against it, and why wouldn't they? They were probably most satisfied there. This year, a number of high scorers like Amazon, Apple and L.L. Bean experienced increases over last year, while—for the first time in two years—we saw a few companies fall below a score of 70.

It's good that companies at the top of the Top 100 are moving forward. However, the bad news is that some of the smaller companies are lagging further behind and need to start playing catch-up in the race for customer satisfaction.

The Customer Satisfaction chart provides satisfaction scores for the retailers in the Top 100 from the preliminary 2012 Internet Retailer Top 500 list. Scores are reported using a 100-point scale. A more in-depth chart that shows historical scores back to 2007 is available at InternetRetailer.com.

Winners and losers

While a satisfaction score of 80 on the ACSI Index has long been the holy grail for companies across industries, in recent years more and more retailers have been reaching and surpassing that benchmark of excellence. When we first started measuring the Top 100 in 2007, only four web sites scored 80 or higher. In 2010 and 2011, almost one-third of all measured sites in the Top 100 reached or broke the 80 barrier. This year, 37 companies' scores ranged from 80 to 89.

After grabbing the top spot from Netflix last year, Amazon (89) remains the leader of the pack, improving three points from 2011's score of 86. Apple was another big mover, increasing to 85 with a five-point improvement. RueLaLa.com's satisfaction also increased by five points, to 75. Foot Locker (79) and JCrew.com (78) both saw an increase of four points, and 10 retailers besides Amazon also improved by three points.

On the other end of the spectrum are those few companies that didn't fare as well. Although last year we didn't see any companies fall below a 70 score, this year Follett Higher Education Group dropped one point to 69 and Ancestry.com dropped seven points to 69. That's not too bad, considering that three years ago 15% of the Top 100 scored 69 or lower. Peapod.com experienced the biggest drop in this year's testing, with a nine-point free fall to 70.

The Netflix saga

We would be remiss not to mention Netflix (81), down four points from last spring (85) and the recipient of much publicity about its plummeting customer satisfaction. It's worth noting that Netflix's satisfaction score is actually up two points from when we measured it over the holiday season (79). Despite the increase, Netflix is still obviously paying the price of its public relations fiasco last year and it is nowhere near its all-time high score of 87 two years ago.

Once the darling of the e-commerce world in terms of customer satisfaction, Netflix clearly has a lot more ground to make up. What remains to be seen is whether the small increase of two points since the holiday season is the result of successful efforts to satisfy customers, or whether so many customers have jumped ship that only the most satisfied remain. Only time will tell.

Aggregate findings from eight merchant categories follow below.

  • Apparel and Accessories: With 22 web sites, this is the largest category. The aggregate satisfaction score for the apparel and accessories sites was 78, up two points from last year (76). Scores for individual retailers within the category ranged from 71 to 83. L.L. Bean (83) saw a two-point increase and now leads the group. Victoria's Secret scored an 81, while five others scored 80. Last year, just two retailers in this category scored 80 or above.
  • Books/Music/Video: The five e-retailers in the books/music/video category had an aggregate category score of 78 (down slightly from 79), with individual scores ranging from 69 to 82. Scholastic and Barnes & Noble each scored an 82.
  • Computers and Electronics: The 10 computer and electronics retailers had an average score of 79 (up from 78), with individual companies ranging from 74 to 85. Four companies in this category had satisfaction scores of 80 or higher: Apple (85), Newegg (82), Dell (80) and Best Buy (80).
  • Food and Drug: Eight food and drug e-retailers averaged a score of 78, unchanged from the 2011 Top 100. Keurig (84), Walgreens (81) and Weight Watchers (80) lead the group.
  • Hardware/Home Improvement: The five e-retailers classified in this category averaged a score of 77—the lowest category score. Individual sites' scores ranged from 73 to 80, with Northern Tool receiving the only 80.
  • Mass Merchants: This is another large and well-performing category—15 sites had an average satisfaction score of 79 (same as 2011). Six e-retailers that are classified as mass merchants scored over 80: Amazon (89), QVC (85), Wal-Mart (82), HSN (81), Kohl's (81) and J.C. Penney (80). None of the Top 100 mass merchants scored lower than 75.
  • Specialty/Non-Apparel: The overall score for the five sites in this category dropped to 78. Three of the five sites scored in the 80s: Oriental Trading (82), Shutterfly (80) and Musician's Friend (80).

Purchase intent

In order to demonstrate the impact that the super-consumer's satisfaction—or lack thereof—has on a retailer's bottom line, we have to show tangible and measureable results. That's where purchase intent scores come into play. Our technology calculates purchase intent scores that quantify site visitors' likelihood to buy from a retailer through any channel (web site, mobile, store, catalog, etc.).

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