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Multi-channel retailers are mounting a challenge to the online dominance of their pure-play rivals despite tending to offer a lower level of site functionality, according to research.

The study, by eDigitalResearch, which uses mystery shoppers to rate UK shopping websites, found Play.com and Amazon.com continued to generate the best overall response from consumers.

However, multi-channel players like Tesco, John Lewis and M&S were seen to have stronger customer service.

The firm said its findings showed “delivery and customer service performance is just as important as the look, search and product range available online”.

It added that online retailers needed to...

... “attain a far greater understanding into the consumer’s true perception of the entire online purchase experience from first impressions through product search, payment, delivery and customer service.”

The study focuses on a range of issues:

  • Play.com was the top site for ‘first impressions’ – site performance, ease-of-use etc - followed by Kays and Tesco, which gained a positive reaction from shoppers to its new home page. The study said sites had improved significantly in this area over the last few years and pointed to the adoption of ‘Vista’ style tabs in sites that shoppers liked using.
  • Carphone Warehouse was seen to have the best shopping basket navigation, although the study found multi-channel retailers tended to struggle to deliver in that area.
  • Multi-channel retailers, however, delivered better customer service, especially over the telephone, “with Waitrose, M&S and Next demonstrating an excellent support infrastructure”. But none of the sites the firm surveyed met consumer expectations when it came to email based customer services.
  • Their site search facilities also tended to frustrate users that have become used to the efficiency of Google and are starting to become more sophisticated in their use of search tools. Interestingly, the mystery shoppers thought Amazon was “in danger of over complicating the site offer” – a point echoed recently by Jesse James Garrett in a recent interview for our weekly newsletter.
  • Sites that provided stock availability information up front to be especially popular, while those that only revealed goods to be out of stock at the checkout were not. These types of issues also came to the fore in our recent Travel Website Benchmarks Report.
  • Figleaves was top for delivery – the report said it tended to meet delivery expectations, as well as excelling at product presentation.
  • Four sites came equal top for a ‘would you shop here again’ measure – Amazon, Play.com, John Lewis and Boots.

Related stories:
Pure-play etailers top satisfaction poll
Multi-channel retailing has finally arrived
Ted Baker's Martin Newman on multi-channel retail
Interview: Tim Curtis, head of Mothercare Direct

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Published 14 September, 2007 by Richard Maven

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