E-tailers and consumers are communicating, but the conversation is sometimes one-sided, according to research regarding feedback best practices and email responses. With Forrester Research projecting U.S. e-commerce sales to grow from $144 billion in 2004 to $316 billion in 2010, merchants who want a piece of the pie will have to improve interaction.
OpinionLab's analysis of the comScore-identified top 50 Web sites revealed that, while improvements have been made, feedback best practices – visibility, consistency, stability, accessibility and anonymity – are not always applied.
Only 28 percent of the top 50 Web sites provided users with a feedback opportunity on every page, and fewer than 10 percent of the audited sites collected quantifiable feedback, diminishing their abilities to make improvements.
Furthermore, a collaborative survey of 433 e-tail insiders from ForeSee Results and Internet Retailer revealed that 27 percent were poorly satisfied by their current Web site research tools to measure satisfaction. Fewer than half (45 percent) said they were somewhat satisfied.
On average, it takes 2.30 mouse clicks to submit feedback among the top 50 sites, but OpinionLab suggests that one click should be enough. Also, only 16 percent of sites ensured that their feedback technique is always visible "above the fold" – the section before a user has to scroll. This percentage represents a quadruple increase over 2003, but a decrease over 2002 when 19 percent of surveyed sites had highly visible feedback techniques.
Just over one-quarter (26 percent) of the evaluated sites returned users to the Web page they were visiting prior to submitting feedback – up from 14 percent in 2003. Most (80 percent) of the audited Web sites prevented anonymous feedback, suggesting that e-tailers may be confusing feedback with customer service.
And speaking of customer service, Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division) evaluated email response rates for roughly 245 sites and found that nearly all offered email as a customer support option, but roughly half of them acknowledged receipt with an automated response. Just a scant 6 percent sent a personal or customized email as a first response.
"A lot of the autoresponses said that they [the customer] should receive an email in a specific amount of time or links to self-help," said Zachary McGeary, research associate with Jupiter Research.
Not all of the follow-up emails materialized. Well over one-third (39 percent) of the evaluated sites waited more than 3 days to respond to a customer email, if they even bothered to respond at all. Deeper analysis revealed, according to McGeary, that the greater share of the 39 percent didn't respond at all.
On the other end of the spectrum, just under one-third of audited sites responded within 6 hours of the initial contact. "This [response time period] has gone up year-over-year and more focus on delivering within the 6-hour time range than the 6 to 24-hour range," said McGeary.
While e-tailers strive for the 6-hour time range as a way to increase customer satisfaction and transition customers from phone to email, the ForeSee Results/Internet Retailer report says that call centers are actually exhibiting the greatest growth within the feedback loop.
Response times may soon undergo a shift, as McGeary noted that customers are actually willing to wait one full business day for a response. "We actually show a growing complacency from customers," he said. "Companies are now surveying customers and they are saying what our data reflects. They are willing to wait longer – up to 24 hours – for an email response," said McGeary.
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