Online Merchants Graded for Service

Discussion
Dec 28, 2006

By George Anderson

It comes as little to no surprise that another study has found that consumers are usually quite happy with their experience doing business online with Amazon.com, Netflix, L.L. Bean and Apple Computer.

Perhaps more surprising is that a number of merchants known more for their bricks than clicks are making strides and getting higher marks from consumers who shop them online.

According to ForeSee Results’ Top 40 Online Retail Satisfaction Index, web sites operated by Sears, J.C. Penney, Old Navy and Target were rated as the most improved.

“We were surprised by this year’s list, particularly the success that multi-channel retailers like Sears and J.C. Penney, who have a traditional brick-and-mortar heritage, have had with Web shoppers,” Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee, told CNNMoney.com.

“In the past we have generally seen the pure-play Internet retailers outshine the traditional multi-channel retailers. If these traditional multi-channel retailers can keep focused on the customer and continue to achieve these types of improvements, they will [become] a tough set of competitors for the pure-play online retailers,” he said.

Sears offered one example of an improvement appreciated by online shoppers. “Sears this year added customer reviews to its site and it resonated well with consumers,” said Mr. Freed.

Surprisingly, Wal-Mart was not among those being given marks for improvements by consumers. Although the retailer made a number of improvements to its online experience in an overhaul completed in October, Mr. Freed thought the changes took place too near to the holidays. He suggested consumers who were already familiar with Walmart.com were forced to start from scratch with the new site and it “became a distraction.”

Amazon, said Mr. Freed, continues to define e-tailing. The site is “developing as a hybrid between a shopping site and a comparison shopping research tool.”

Discussion Questions: What are your takeaways from the findings of ForeSee Results’ research? What e-tailer gets your nod for the most improved?

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6 Comments on "Online Merchants Graded for Service"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

All well-managed businesses commit to continuous improvement. They compare themselves to their competitors and they compare themselves to themselves, both. If you don’t work on beating both your competitors and yourself, you aren’t aiming high enough.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

The only surprise from this research is that it took traditional “bricks and mortar” retailers so long in establishing a workable online presence. My feeling is that for a long time the traditional retailers really wanted the internet shopping option to go away. Now they realize its staying power, and recognize the value of leveraging recognized (and trusted) brand names with the consumer affection for the attributes afforded by internet shopping.

To be successful in the long run, retailers need to focus on selling what (and how) consumers want, rather than make consumers buy what (and how) these traditional retailers want to sell.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 4 months ago

E-tailing is too fluid and dynamic for research “snapshots” to yield anything useful. Unlike the days and weeks required to prepare a brick and mortar store for a specific holiday, a website storefront can be updated in hours and even minutes. Then, constant monitoring of customer behavior, orders, and feedback enables e-tailers to make changes on the fly. By the time you’ve polled shoppers for their impressions, the websites have moved on.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

To me, most of the big box e-tailers are all about the same. Has anyone ever heard of a retailer whose online experience is getting worse? I know quite a few whose in-store experience is getting worse but not online. Seems like they are all improving.

My favorites will never make any kind of published list. Mostly all of those are the faceless honest people who sell me stuff from eBay, who accept PayPal, get my product to me quickly, and then write something nice about me for doing business with them.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
15 years 4 months ago

Amazon has set the standard for customer service and ease of shopping very high. Other sites are compared to them.

I have been continually impressed with LL Bean for their service, selection and no delivery fee if you use their Visa card. This year, Barnes & Noble and Borders seemed to compete a lot on discounts, delivery fees, selection and rewards to “members”.

For the consumer, it seems the business is just getting better online with the multitude of choices and deals to be made. Amazon’s promise to develop a comparison shopping research tool could prove very popular.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 4 months ago
While it is true that online stores _can_ be updated every few minutes, the business is no longer so fluid that it makes any sense to do so. Ensuring a good online experience is the product of careful market research now, and any good business makes changes carefully. The biggest difference is that testing those changes is far easier. Instead of converting an entire location to a new format and watching for results, an online store can redirect a certain percentage if its traffic to a new interface and see what happens. Taking a page from the direct marketer’s handbook, a test matrix can be developed and individual features of a new interfaces can be tested and recombined for an ideal outcome. As these disciplines become part of the way online business is done, everyone should be getting better. The bricks ‘n’ clicks stores do have some built-in advantages, such as store pickup, but they also have a focus that online giants like Amazon do not. One danger is see for Amazon is confusion —… Read more »
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