Study Reveals Retail Web Sites Offer Poor Self-Service

The Allen Bonde Group (ABG), a market research and consulting firm, announced this week the results of an independent study of the search and navigation capabilities of 57 leading retail Web sites. Conducted as part of the firm's ongoing analysis of the state of Web self-service, the new study focuses on a key aspect of the online experience: how well retail sites handle the questions Web users have as they wrap up their holiday shopping. As Allen Bonde, president of ABG, says, "Consumers usually have a few last questions before buying a product online, and it simply makes sense to be able to answer that question easily." Bonde says he was surprised to see that many of the 57 sites, all among the top-100 retailers in the world, did not do a decent job of answering simple service-related questions. "A lot of these sites simply do a lousy job of answering questions asked in a full sentence format," Bonde says. "They either had no response at all, or offered up a lot of useless links." The study results illustrate what ABG has termed the self-service paradox: Given the amount of money and effort companies have spent driving customers to the Web, why do they continue to drop the ball when it comes to online customer service? This continues, ABG says, despite the widely cited cost advantages of answering inquiries via the Web, and the increasing role of the Web as a source of information. While many sites did not score high marks for their self-service capabilities, some sites provided relevant answers to test queries and provided a positive overall user experience, ABG says. Sites supporting natural language search and retrieval performed better than their peers, according to Bonde. The firm says the six "best" sites were Amazon, Gateway, Kohls, Office Depot, Talbots, and Williams-Sonoma. Bonde says retailers should be better at Web self-service than anyone, considering their company image is reflected in a customer's online experience, as well as in their brick-and-mortar stores. However, Bonde notes, many companies are adding natural language search capabilities, and will be much better at Web self-service in the near future.
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