• December 2, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Companies Were Slow to Respond on Black Friday, Cyber Monday

A study of retailer responses to customer service requests on Black Friday and Cyber Monday found that retailers this year struggled to answer calls quickly.

The research, conducted by STELLAService, an independent company that uses a nationwide network of mystery shoppers to evaluate the customer service performance and quality of Internet retailers, found that average call wait times were 139 percent higher for the top 25 retailers than normal.

The reason for the slow response, according to Leiser, was better than expected consumer spending. "Most retailers did well financially, but there was a lot of uncertainty about how retailers would do," says Jordy Leiser, co-founder and CEO of STELLAService. "A lot were not expecting the volume. A lot were just not prepared."

"Clearly there was a degradation in performance, especially in phone support," Leiser continues. "Most companies performed far worse as compared to the baseline."

That baseline involved similar contacts with companies two weeks prior to the start of the big holiday shopping season.

"Performance was even worse on Cyber Monday than during the weekend" (which included Black Friday and the Saturday and Sunday after), Lieser said. "The wait time and response was really poor. At some companies, you waited 15 or 20 minutes to get an agent."

But not all retailers received failing grades. Leiser noted that companies known for above-average customer service were again at the tops in his company's study. These included companies like Nordstrom, Amazon.com, Zappo's, LL Bean, and Ovcerstock.com. "It's reassuring to see that the names and brands that people hold up as champions in customer service are working hard to maintain their reputations," he says. "They've earned and deserved the reputations they have."

When it came to phone calls, Sony was the worst; on average it kept customers on hold for 11 minutes and 20 seconds. Seven retailers made shoppers wait longer than five minutes on average. They were:

  • Sony (11:20);
  • HSN (9:25);
  • Kohls (9:04);
  • Dell (8:17);
  • JCPenny (7:23);
  • Newegg (6:56);
  • Buy.com (6:42).

Only three retailers averaged less than one minute wait times. They were:

  • Nordstrom (18 seconds);
  • Overstock.com (44 seconds);
  • LLBean (46 seconds).

Across the board, the average call hold times on Cyber Monday were significantly longer than on any other day, taking seven minutes on average to reach a live customer service agent. The average call wait times for the top 25 Internet retailers were as follows:

  • Nordstrom.com: 18 seconds;
  • Overstock.com: 44 seconds;
  • LLBean.com: 46 seconds;
  • Zappos.com: 01:09;
  • Target.com: 01:18;
  • Sears.com: 01:22;
  • Amazon.com: 01:40;
  • ToysRUs.com: 01:59;
  • QVC.com: 02:03;
  • Gap.com: 02:22;
  • Walmart.com: 02:24;
  • Macys.com: 02:25;
  • Shop.Avon.com: 02:26;
  • VictoriasSecret.com: 02:46;
  • Store.Apple.com: 03:02;
  • BestBuy.com: 03:43;
  • HPShopping.com: 03:44;
  • Williams-Sonoma.com: 04:18;
  • Buy.com: 06:42;
  • Newegg.com: 06:56;
  • JCPenney.com: 07:23;
  • Dell.com: 08:17;
  • Kohls.com: 09:04;
  • HSN.com: 09:25; and
  • Sonystyle.com: 11:20;

Email response rates for top retailers

Email was the one area where retailers struggled the most. Of all the emails sent, only 65 percent were responded to within 24 hours. That spelled lost sales for a lot of retailers, according to Leiser. "If I'm doing online shopping and I don't get a response soon, I've moved on and looked elsewhere," he says.

JCPenny is the only retailer that did not respond to any emails within 24 hours. Only four retailers (HPShopping.com, ToysRUs, Amazon.com,and Overstock.com) responded to 100 percent of the emails sent to them within 24 hours.

The percentage of emails responded to within 24 hours are as follows:

  • HPShopping.com: 100 percent;
  • ToysRUs.com: 100 percent;
  • Amazon.com: 100 percent;
  • Overstock.com: 100 percent;
  • Kohls.com: 92 percent;
  • Sears.com: 92 percent;
  • Nordstrom.com: 92 percent;
  • Buy.com: 92 percent;
  • LLbean.com: 92 percent;
  • VictoriasSecret.com: 83 percent;
  • Dell.com: 83 percent;
  • Williams-Sonoma.com: 83 percent;
  • Walmart.com: 83 percent;
  • Macys.com: 75 percent;
  • SonyStyle.com: 75 percent;
  • HSN.com: 67 percent;
  • Zappos.com: 58 percent;
  • QVC.com: 42 percent;
  • Target.com: 33 percent;
  • Newegg.com: 25 percent;
  • BestBuy.com: 25 percent;
  • Gap.com: 8 percent;
  • Shop.Avon.com: 8 percent;and
  • JCPenney.com: 0 percent.

Live Chat Support

Only 14 of the top 25 retailers offer live chat. Of them, only three (Amazon.com, Overstock.com, and Sears) significantly reduced the amount of time it took to reach a live agent on live chat; responses were at least two minutes faster than normal.

Retailers offering Live Chat included the following:

  • Apple.com;
  • Overstock.com;
  • Nordstrom.com;
  • LLBean.com;
  • Amazon.com;
  • Zappos.com;
  • Sears.com;
  • Dell.com;
  • Buy.com;
  • HPShopping.com;
  • Sonystyle.com;
  • Newegg.com;
  • HSN.com; and
  • Gap.com.

Retailers not offering Live Chat included the following:

  • BestBuy.com;
  • JCPenney.com;
  • Kohls.com;
  • Macys.com;
  • QVC.com;
  • Shop.Avon.com;
  • Target.com;
  • ToyrRUs.com;
  • VictoriasSecret.com;
  • Walmart.com; and
  • Williams-Sonoma.com.

Leiser found the list of retailers not offering live chat "staggering." "It's shocking that Walmart, Target, Kohls, and Macys are not using live chat. "People clearly want to use it, and you are disappointing them if you don't have it," he adds.

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