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E-tailers Deliver Improved Holiday Shopping

Holiday shoppers reported higher satisfaction with the Web shopping experience compared to last year, according to a report by market research firm ForeSee Results.

The group’s Holiday Retail Benchmark study showed that online shopper satisfaction rose 1.7 percent to a score of 77.6 on a 100-point scale for the week between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9, a 3.3 percent increase over the same week in 2006.

“The combination of retailer readiness for the holiday rush and positive reaction to promotions has resulted in robust satisfaction, which should spell strong results for the holiday season and beyond,” said Larry Freed, president/CEO of ForeSee Results”

Strong Web-shopping satisfaction levels lead to a higher likelihood to buy both online and via offline channels such as in a store or from a catalog, ForeSee said. Online holiday shoppers were 4.6 percent more likely to make a future Web purchase and 4.1 percent more likely to buy offline than they were during the same week in 2006.

“The Web has truly come into its own as an integral channel to drive sales beyond the virtual world,” Freed said. “Retailers have successfully integrated the Web into their multichannel strategy so that it’s a better sales channel and a better tool for increasing store and catalog sales.”

Indeed, many consumers who leave a Web site without making a purchase after putting items into their shopping carts plan to shop offline with that same retailer, the research showed. Compared to last year, consumers who abandon the online shopping process prior to purchase are 8 percent more likely to buy offline from the retailer, meaning that the sale is often not truly lost.

Separately, the Customer Respect Group, an international research and consulting firm that focuses on how corporations treat their online customers, found that e-tailers set an all-industry standard in their levels of customer service and satisfaction during the fourth quarter of 2007.

The firm quantified its findings via its Customer Respect Index (CRI), a 10-point scale that reflects site usability, communication and trust. The average CRI rating for the retail industry was 6.1, which represented a slight improvement over the prior 12 months, making it the leader of all industries reviewed.

Retail’s strong showing was especially influenced by its “enhanced self-service facilities and greater emphasis on providing effective real-time answers to customer queries, removing barriers to the completion of online purchases,” the firm said.

Specifically, the retail industry was rated best in the area of communicating with online visitors in 2007, scoring 7.0 in responsiveness, compared to 6.5 scored by the next highest-rated industries. Twenty-two percent of retail sites now provide online chat, compared to the all-industry average of just 12 percent. Also noted was the emergence of pro-active “chat,” where visitors are invited to engage in a context-sensitive dialog based on their online behavior. “Click to call,” prompting a telephone call directly from the retailer to the user, also showed a strong upward trend as retailers look to limit site abandonment.

Other communication channels remained well supported. Sixty-five percent of email inquiries to retail companies were responded to within a day, compared to 57 percent among all other industries studied during the year, the group said. Eighty-three percent of inquiries received a helpful reply — again well ahead of the average of 60 percent.

E-tailers also make navigation easy. Moving around a site by “fast track” methods is a key focus of cyber stores, with 96 percent of retail sites containing FAQ sections, compared to 61 percent among all other industries. Those FAQs are generally easy to locate (65 percent were linked from the homepage) and well structured (more than 82 percent contained a search facility and/or anchor links). The percentage of sites containing a site search facility was again above average (96 percent vs. 73 percent).

Among those selling CE and majaps, Overstock and Lowe’s achieved an overall “Excellent” CRI rating of 7.4 and 7.2, respectively.

Online Leaders In ‘Customer Respect’