January 29, 2016, 4:07 PM

E-retailers cut clicks to check out and make it easier to return in stores

The E-Tailing Group’s 18th Annual Mystery Shopping Study cites eight of its 100 benchmarked online retailers as leaders in Q4 customer service.

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It took fewer clicks to check out from an online retailer’s site in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, more retailers offered in-store returns for online purchases and delivery times in 2015 (3.45 days) were on par with the year before (3.42 days), according to the annual Mystery Shopper Study conducted by consulting firm The E-tailing Group Inc.

The 100 retailers in the Q4 customer service study also improved their cross-channel services,  as more offered enabled consumers to create wish lists (90% in 2015 vs. 82% in 2014) and then share and access them across channels, such as on their smartphones and in stores, the study finds. In addition, 90% of the retailers studied that operate bricks-and-mortar stores accepted returns of web orders in their stores, versus 80% during the 2014 holiday season.

The E-tailing Group determines merchants that excel at customer service based on such criteria as having a toll-free telephone number on the home page, taking three or fewer days to fulfill orders, requiring five or fewer clicks to check out or one-click checkout capability for those with more than five clicks, and satisfactorily answering an email question within 24 hours. The company collects data by making an online purchase from a merchant’s site and returning the item, contacting customer service with a product query and scanning retailers’ websites for more than 300 merchandising and customer-service features and/or functions. Retailers in the study include Office Depot Inc., No. 8 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, Target Corp. (No. 16), Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (No. 70) and Ann Inc. (No. 94).

"Service today means unprecedented access via every channel and every device where access and efficiency are both expectations,” says Lauren Freedman, president of The E-tailing Group.

The retailers whose sites passed critical tests of customer service in all seven areas are as follows, in alphabetical order, followed by their rank in the Internet Retailers 2015 Top 500 Guide:

  • B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio (No. 225)
  • CPO Commerce (No. 262)
  • Kay  Jewelers) (part of No. 125 Signet Jewelers)
  • Lands’ End (No. 38)
  • Pottery Barn (part of No. 20 Williams-Sonoma)
  • REI (No. 72)
  • The Home Depot Inc. (No. 10)
  • Zappos (part of No. 1 Amazon)

Home Depot and Zappos were repeat winners from the 2014 study.

When it came to email response time, the average for the 100 retailers surveyed suffered. Retailers took longer to respond to customers’ email inquiries in 2015 at 26 hours, 30 minutes vs. 21 hours, 2 minutes in 2014.

The survey cited eight retailers who answered customers’ emailed questions in under 20 minutes. Only two of those scored high enough overall to be rated among the winners. Shoe store Aldo Group Inc. (No. 464) responded the fastest to email inquiries at 2 minutes, followed by Garnet Hill (part of No. 25 HSN Inc.) at 3 minutes. The others were CPO at 5 minutes; Golfsmith International (No. 227) at 10 minutes; Cabela’s Inc. (No. 63) at 13 minutes; Title Nine (No. 359) at 14 minutes; B&H  at 15 minutes and Under Armour Inc. (No.121) at 19 minutes, according to the study.

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