Retailers treating online customers better, study says

Retailers are getting better at responding quickly to online customer queries, but need to beef up their privacy practices, according to The Customer Respect Group Inc.

The Bellevue, Washington, research and consulting firm noted a significant gain in retailer responsiveness in the summer version of its Online Customer Respect Study, released last week, as compared to its winter survey, released in March. In the previous survey, 37 percent of retailers didn't respond to online inquiries. In the current survey, the unresponsiveness rate dipped to 25 percent.

For its biannual study, The Customer Respect Group looks at general merchandise and specialty retail firms that rank among the 500 largest U.S. companies and rates how they treat online customers. The firm assigns each retailer a customer respect score, which is based on 25 attributes related to handling of customer data, attitude toward customers, openness of policies, ease of navigation and responsiveness to inquiries

Four retailers tied, to top the rankings with a score of 9 out of a possible 10: Lowe's, The Gap, Target and Circuit City. Overall, retailers' customer respect index rose to 7.2 from 6.8 the last time the sector was surveyed, the firm says.

As a group, retailers were most adept at providing easy-to-navigate sites: Surveyed firms receive an overall rating of 8 in this category. The companies were much less successful in handling customer data with respect, scoring 6.1 for their efforts in this area.

Retailers need to pay more attention to how they use personal data and provide online customers with better and easier control over their information, said Terri McNulty, chief executive officer of Customer Respect Group, in a statement.

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