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E-retail satisfaction index up

Monday January 4 2010

But compared to US online customer service level results, UK e-retailers can’t afford to rest on their laurels  

But compared to US online customer service level results, UK e-retailers can’t afford to rest on their laurels


A study into customer satisfaction of the UK’s top 40 online retail websites during December has unveiled that, despite a dismal economic year and sagging online sales at the beginning of the fourth quarter, customer satisfaction scores for the top online retailers are up 6% on last year.


Every single retailer included saw a year-on-year increase, if small, in the last two years in a row, with unprecedented across-the-board increases in the ten-year history of ForeSee Results research.


This is the third year that ForeSee Results, the online customer satisfaction measurement provider, has measured customer satisfaction with the top online retailers in the US and UK, enabling valuable year-on-year comparison to see which retailers have improved and which have slipped over time. The Index measured four high-level factors that affect overall customer satisfaction: functionality, price, merchandise and content. Over 10,000 survey responses were collected from shoppers who had visited the top 40 e-retail websites in the UK in November and December.


UK improves, but still lags behind US


“Online UK retailers should bask in the warmth of this development and enjoy some good news in a season of mostly bad news…but not for very long,” said Larry Freed, ForeSee Results chief executive. “While these numbers are certainly a huge step in the right direction, companies who saw improvements run the risk of being lulled into a false sense of security. There is still a long way to go with the UK’s numbers still trailing the US by 10%. Additionally there is only one site out of 40 with a satisfaction score over 80, Amazon – essentially an American company with a strong UK presence. It concerns me that there are still 15 companies scoring 60 or lower which means they are risking sales and market share to better performing companies.”


Aggregate customer satisfaction saw a sharp increase this Christmas (71 on the study’s 100-point scale, up four points and a significant 6% increase from last year’s aggregate score of 67) despite the global recession.


In terms of range of satisfaction, scores for e-retailers spanned a wide 18-point range, from a high of 83 to a low of 65. However, not a single retailer registered a decline in satisfaction since 2008.


The leaders and laggards


As referenced by Freed, the clear winner this year (as it was in 2007 and in 2008) is Amazon’s UK site with 83 points – up five on last year’s score. It is the only website in the UK which scored above an 80, generally considered the threshold of excellence in studies using this methodology. (up one point from last year, to 79) came second, closely followed by in third place (up eight points on last year with 78).


However, 15 of the 40 measured UK e-retailers registered scores of 69 or lower, generally considered to be bottom performers who Foresee said are risking erosion of market share and sales if improvements are not made. Ticketmaster UK and B&Q had the lowest scores in the Index (at 65) – a position B&Q also had last year. Dixons, Currys, Freemans, and Littlewoods did only slight better but still fall to the back of the pack (all at 66).


In terms of the most improved, every single website in the Index that was measured in both 2008 and 2009 registered satisfaction increases year-on-year but the most notable increases were: Debenhams (up 10 points and 16% to 71); M&M Direct (up nine points and 13% to 76); John Lewis (up nine points and 13% to 77); The Orange Shop (up eight points and 13% to 68); and WH Smith (up eight points and 13% to 70).


Recession bites with bargain hunting


Of all the specific website elements measured in the study (price, merchandise, content and web functionality) this was the first time in the three-year history of the UK Index, that price emerged as the top priority element for 20 of the 40 e-retailers measured in the study. Merchandise was a top priority for 15, and web functionality was top for eight. Content, i.e. the accuracy, quality and freshness of information on the website, was not listed as a top priority.


And, with an aggregate score of 79, US websites considerably outperformed UK ones (by nine points and 10%). Foresee said that, if American sites are that much more satisfying and international shipping issues become more and more irrelevant, the pressure on UK sites will increase.


“These numbers are not theoretical,” said Freed. “They are scientific calculations of likely future behaviours of actual shoppers who visited the top 40 e-retailers in the UK, and this research was conducted using an established, credible, cause-and-effect methodology. These numbers are also calculated for each and every individual retailer on the list, since each retailer’s website will be different. This data shows that the crucial impact of the online shopping channel on overall business cannot be ignored.


Kevin Ertell, vice president of retail strategy at ForeSee Results added: “The more e-commerce savvy UK consumers become, the more they will expect and demand of their online experience. Getting customer satisfaction right is critical and those who do it well will enjoy a positive impact on their bottom line. The online channel continues to be one of the few success stories in the retail economy, meaning that retail websites are more essential and capable than ever before.”