Study: online retailers get a 'C'

A study conducted in the week before Christmas shows that while online shopping rated favourably with most holiday shoppers this season, overall satisfaction is down when compared with last year.

          A study conducted in the week before Christmas shows that while online shopping rated favourably with most holiday shoppers this season, overall satisfaction is down when compared with last year.

          The study, by ForSee Results, questioned 300 online holiday shoppers about their shopping experience. The results from those interviews landed online retailers a score of 69 out of 100 -- a "C" -- based on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a measure of consumer satisfaction.

          That score is down from last year, when a similar study by the University of Michigan Business School gave online retailers a ACSI rating of 77 out of 100.

          However, responses to last year's study by the University of Michigan were collected throughout the fourth quarter of 2001, whereas ForSee questioned its respondents in the week before Christmas, capturing shoppers more focused on the holiday season, according to Larry Freed, CEO of ForSee.

          The ACSI was developed by the University of Michigan Business School, the American Society for Quality, and the international consulting firm, CFI Group.

          The questionnaire used in the study was delivered in the form of a pop-up, 35 question survey to visitors at a major online shopping exchange, which offers access to a number of different online retailers. Freed would not name the site from which users received the survey.

          Among other things, respondents were asked to rate the look and feel of the websites they visited, the sites' navigation elements, performance, privacy features, as well as the order process and the retailers' return policies, Freed says.

          Each variable was weighted according to how much it affected consumer purchase behavior and loyalty, according to ForSee.

          According to ForSee, 59% of respondents in the 2002 study reported being "highly satisfied" with their online shopping experience. Seventy one percent reported that they would be "very likely" to shop online for the 2003 holiday season.

          However, 10% of those surveyed were "extremely disappointed" with their experience, with two thirds of that number unlikely to shop online during the next holiday season.

          "The big factor we see is that [online] consumer expectations are continuing to rise. Also, users are becoming more savvy as to what they should expect," Freed says.

          Online retailers must improve the ability to browse for and order products online and must also do more to understand what affects their customers' satisfaction, Freed says.

          For those companies that succeed in improving customer satisfaction, however, the numbers look good.

          Forty nine percent of those surveyed said they were likely to do more than a quarter of their holiday shopping online, Freed says. In addition, more than 60% of those surveyed said they would be likely to shop online again within the next two months, with satisfied customers 50% more likely to make a purchase within that time period than unsatisfied customers.

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