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customer service

You'd think downtimes would be good times to make shoppers happy. Heck, even New York's toniest restaurents are getting downright obsequious with the customers they once very nearly snubbed.

Yet the e-tailing group's 11th annual Mystery Shopping Study, conducted in Q4 2008, found the overwhelming majority of online retailers are falling flat in nine critical areas of customer service.

To qualify as "top performing," 100 online retailers were ranked on specific benchmarking criteria. The survey eliminates sites that don't possess the following "must have" criteria, in order of importance:

1. Toll-free telephone number present

2. Keyword search

3. Four or fewer days to receive package

4. Adequately and correctly answer e-mail question within 24 hours; provide a specific answer

5. CSR product knowledge when calling toll-free number, 2.0 or higher on a scale of 3.0

6. Six or fewer clicks to checkout

7. Email shipping confirmation sent

8. Email order confirmation sent with order number included

9. Real time inventory in shopping cart or product page

Honestly, you'd think after 11 years of these same criteria, online retailers would start getting their customer service act together. It's not like they're being judged on the hard stuff, like restroom cleanliness.

The nine (of 100) merchants that passed the test, in alphabetical order, are:


     Brooks Brothers





     Lands End


Conspicuously absent from the list is the 800 lb. gorilla of online retail, Amazon.com. My guess is they flunked the toll-free number test. It's there -- but just try to find it.

The areas in which retailers have experienced the biggest slips since last year? (Figures in parentheses are 2007 vs. 2008 data):

- Customer service hours are more limited, with 24x7 access down (27% vs. 39%)

- Average number of business days to receive an item is up (4.76% vs. 4.18%)

- Fewer merchants send e-mail shipping confirmations (84% vs. 95%)

Rebecca Lieb

Published 4 February, 2009 by Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb oversees Econsultancy's North American operations.

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