~ huge growth in online sales comes despite retailers’ failure to provide a fulfilling consumer experience ~

Despite huge gains in the number of online consumers over the Christmas period, the bulk of Internet retailers provide a below-average customer experience, according to new research from Conchango.

Festive shoppers gave their online experience an overall ‘happiness rating’ of just 49%, dragged down by poorly designed sites and delivery issues, according to the survey of 83 consumers buying products on eleven top retail websites over Christmas.

The survey’s top-performing website, a leading electrical retailer, recorded an average online user ‘happiness rating’ of 60% while the worst performing site, a leading high street department store, recorded an average online user ‘happiness rating’ of just 41%.

Sites were judged on their ease of usability, clarity of product information and security, as well as a range of other consumer concerns. On the technical front, users reported worrying security issues such as the ability to ‘back button’ through the order and bring back credit card details.

Once the order had been placed, many consumers experienced poor customer service such as a lack of response to delivery enquiries (one shopper emailed customer services four times in six days without a response), inflated delivery charges (one shopper paid an online delivery charge of £4.95 on a product with the same in-store price tag), no invoices, and receiving damaged goods.

The research found that the most common barriers to consumer online happiness included:

Failure to soothe security fears – a 43% happiness rating
Speed of the transaction – a 45% happiness rating
Inadequate product search – a 48% happiness rating

The top features that enhanced the shopping experience for most visitors included:

· Good use of site layout – a 54% happiness rating

· Plenty of product information – a 54% happiness rating

· The look and feel of the site – a 53% happiness rating

“Still too many customers abandon the online shopping process before they enter their credit card details,” said Gill Hide, head of retail at Conchango. “E-tailers need to focus squarely on the customers and ensure that navigating the site is as intuitive and pleasurable an experience as possible. They must also ensure brand consistency with other channels to market.”

Conchango believes e-tailers can improve their customers’ online experience by:

Creating a more intuitive feel to the site
Creating pricing and branding consistent with the high street offering
Adding plenty of sign posts to aid navigation
Including an efficient search window
Offering quick answers to questions
Alleviating the need to call customer services
Keeping delays to a minimum

“These figures show that even though online sales showed healthy growth this Christmas, they are still not fulfilling their true potential,” said Hide. “It would seem that many high street retailers continue to concentrate on improving their consumers’ in-store experience rather than their online one.”

Online sales for November and December grew 20% year on year, outperforming the high street by a factor of eight, according to the latest research from the Interactive Retail Media Group research company (IRMG). In comparison high street sales grew by just 2.5%.

For further information please contact Lorraine Branch on 0207 261 4484.

Published on: 12:00AM on 4th February 2005