• July 5, 2012

Study: Top Retailers Respond to Half of Customer Email

Next time you've got a question while shopping online, think twice before firing off an email if you are expecting a helpful answer.

According to a new study released last week by STELLAService, retailers answer customer questions completely just 54 percent of the time.

STELLAService is an independent company that uses a nationwide network of mystery shoppers to measure and rate the customer service performance of online retailers using more than 350 metrics, from the quality of live customer support to the speed of refunds.

For 45 days, the company's mystery shoppers sent 1,125 email messages to 25 of the largest retailers asking two basic questions, such as whether a pair of shoes was available in red and in a size six. STELLAService deemed a response complete if the retailer answered both questions fully.

LLBean.com proved to be the most dependable, answering 88.9 percent of customer email completely. Rounding out the top five were Gap.com (84 percent), Zappos.com (75 percent) and VictoriasSecret.com and TigerDirect.com (70.4 percent).

STELLAService CEO Jordy Leiser said shoppers' preferences are in line with the type of service to expect. "Customers love the ease and practicality of email, but it is clear from our research that retailers are not being diligent about quality replies," he said in a statement. "In order to meet the needs and expectations of their customers, it’s time for retailers to deliver the same level of quality when communicating with customers via email as they do on the phone."

Leiser also noted that the quality of email varied greatly among the 25 largest online retailers, pointing to the need for establishing best practices for retailers. Several top stores responded to email with an automatically generated reply directing customers to their home page and help index, a mostly unhelpful tactic. However, Amazon.com, Macys.com, OfficeMax.com, Wal-Mart.com, and Zappos.com were singled out by STELLAService's mystery shoppers for going above and beyond in assisting customers.

For instance, a STELLAService mystery shopper posed this question to Zappos.com via email: "I'm looking for the original royal blue snuggie but can't find it on your site. Do you ever expect to sell these? Where can I find it elsewhere?" The reply from Zappos.com answered both questions and included links to buy the product at another store, confirming that consumers can count on some top retailers for delivering detailed, personalized responses to service questions.

This report included Amazon.com, Zappos.com (Amazon subsidiary), Staples, Dell, Office Depot, Wal-Mart Stores, Sears Holdings, QVC, Office Max, Best Buy, Newegg, Sony, Costco Wholesale, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret Direct, HP, J.C. Penney, L.L. Bean, Target, Systemax (TigerDirect.com), Gap, Williams-Sonoma, HSN, Overstock.com, and Nordstrom. In all, 1,125 email messages were measured from April 1 to May 15.

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