Shopping for Service

If it seems that the online shopping experience has improved, that's because it has.

According to Answerthink's third annual Holiday Shopping Web Survey, industry standards are on the rise.

The Retail Solutions Group of Answerthink Inc., which provides CRM, supply chain, and related IT services, shopped popular Web sited during the 2001 holiday season to evaluate the level of customer care those sites delivered versus what was offered in 2000. The six primary areas of comparison were customer service, ease of shopping, ease of ordering, ease of order processing, delivery and returns, relationship management. Answerthink shopped each site twice, placing one standard order and one rush order. The study discovered a number of significant trends:

� An increasing number of retailers are presenting a consistent shopping experiences across all channels.

� More sites are offering such customer service tools as retention of frequently used shipping addresses and billing information, express checkout, wish lists, and access to product availability information.

� Retailers that use such features as "call me now" are still in the minority. And although the use of interactive chat is on the rise, most site still rely on FAQs.
� Sales "rooms" are becoming increasingly popular.

� Companies have made significant improvements to advance search and gift finder tools.

� More sites are providing merchandising help tools such as sizing and warranty information, expert advice, beginner guides, customer ratings, and item specifications.

� An increasing number of sites have implemented automated e-mail systems that update customers on their order status.

Top Performers in Reviewed Categories

Overall Excellence: Eddie Bauer

Customer Service: Eddie Bauer

Ease of Shopping: CD Now

Ease of Ordering: Boston-Proper

Ease of Order Processing and Tracking: Target, Macy's, Sears

Delivery and Returns: Coldwater Creek

Relationship Management : Babies R Us, Gymboree, Baby style, Amazon.com, 800.com, Buy.com, Blockbuster, Babbages, eToy

Interestingly, a study on the effectiveness of such technologies as automated systems that update customers on their order status was recently conducted by PAR3 Communications, which provides event-based notification solutions, for its customer Norm Thompson Outfitters, a catalog company.

The study found that 96 percent of respondents reacted positively to personalized notifications. In fact, customer loyalty rose, with nearly 50 percent of respondents indicating that in the future they are more likely to order from Norm Thompson than from other companies. An additional benefit to Norm Thompson was realized in the for of cost savings: 95 percent of customers who received notifications did not call customer service, reducing the volume of inbound service calls.

Surprisingly, nearly 70 percent of respondents favor telephone notifications over text and wireless notifications. And 40 percent are interested in receiving other types of notifications, such as information on special promotions.

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