Coming off the most critical selling period of the year in e-retail, U.S. retailers have been given an unexpected gift — an uptick in customer satisfaction. The 2009 ForeSee Results E-Retail Satisfaction Index, based on the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), found that visitor satisfaction with the top 40 retail Web sites (by sales volume, according to Internet Retailer’s June 2009 issue) has reached an all-time high the U.S., up 7% from last year.
“Online retail continues to experience significant expansion in the U.S., fulfilling the growth expectations of many in the industry,” said Larry Freed, President & CEO, ForeSee Results. “…The online channel continues to be one of the few success stories in the retail economy, meaning that retail Web sites are more essential and capable than ever before.”
Most retailers included in the past two years saw a year-over-year increase, though some gains seem to be actually rebounding from 2008 declines many e-retailers experienced during the height of the recession, according to the report. Still, this is remarkable progress by a still-maturing industry, Freed said.
Forty of the top online retailers in the U.S. (based on annual sales volume) were scored on the study’s 100-point satisfaction scale. Amazon continues to lead the Index with a score of 87, the highest score ForeSee has ever charted in any of its E-Retail Satisfaction Indices. Web sites for Macy’s, SonyStyle, The Gap, The Home Shopping Network and Overstock.com have seen the greatest increases in satisfaction since last year, with all five registering year-over-year increases of 10% or more.
Freed said the ability to adapt to the changing retail environment is what has given bigger retailers the upper hand. “We’re really seeing a bit of a separation between the big retailers being able to use their leverage and clout compared to others,” he said. “The ability to discount deep and fast, the ability to do a better job at stock and merchandising and to do a better job of focusing on improvements over the last year.”
Key Performance Indicators
Many e-retailers that embraced the findings that improving online customer experience has a demonstrable and tangible effect on their bottom lines and made changes to online shopping that are in part responsible for their increase in satisfaction, the report said. The retailers that boasted the biggest increases in satisfaction were asked to what they attributed the impact.
Kent Anderson, President of Macys.com, said the company has significantly worked on improving the site’s merchandise offering, functionality, quality and freshness of content, the report said, to proactively find and solve customer problems. Macys.com increased 9 points and 13% year-over-year.
- Added “finders” buying guides, product reviews and product reviews
- Increased non-selling content, like the Come Together hunger relief effort; Believe (which raised funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; Style Source; and Shop for a better World (baskets and related products made by widows of the Rwandan genocide).
Sears representative Tom Aiello said the multichannel retailer has strategically highlighted customer choice in the past year, and has seen a 7%, 5-point increase in the index from last year.
- Emphasis on consumer choice (store Web site, call center, mobile commerce site).
- Emphasis on product (adding inventory of books, music, movies and wireless phones).
- New payment options (adding Express checkout with PayPal and eBillme).
- Optimized order fulfillment (customers can buy online and have it shipped, pick it up in the store, or pick it up curbside at select locations).
Lewis Goldman, SVP, Brand Marketing, 1-800-Flowers.com said that the florist has focused on providing a better customer experience by better communication with customers and added site functionality. I
- The retailer emphasizes a strong focus on its florist network, which aims to provide optimal customer experiences.
- Proactively communicates with customers who may experience a delay due to inclement weather.
- The Web site added new product images and the ability to review products
1800Flowers.com experienced a year-over-year increase of 6 points and 8.3%.
Freed said the Web is eliminating switching costs because consumers can shop around different retailers at the same time, which means that satisfaction has become more important to the mix and driving consumer decision-making.
“With lower switching costs, it’s raising the stakes to have a connection and engagement with a satisfied consumer, and you have to use all means possible to do that,” he said.