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Merchants Need Some Timely Improvements

  |  February 2, 2004   |  Comments

Customers were able to complete their transactions more quickly during the 2003 holiday season than the year prior, but merchants lingered over e-mail responses while delivery time remained flat.

How many clicks does it take to satisfy a customer? Just 4.6, according to a survey from the e-tailing group, inc. that examined the average response and fulfillment times of 100 online merchants in 15 consumer categories during the fourth quarter of 2003. While the holiday season is the busiest time for e-tailers, e-tailing group president Lauren Freedman believes the survey results are on par with the rest of the year.

The survey found that the average shopping time was 3.67 minutes, and items took 4.4 days to be delivered – results that fell comfortably within the e-tailing group's criteria. Shopping time improved from the fourth quarter of 2002, when customers took 4.08 minutes to complete their spending spree, while delivery time remained the same.

The 100 sites were judged on the following:

  • Customer's ability to complete shopping process on first attempt
  • Merchant provides toll-free phone number
  • Merchant answers email question correctly, within 24 hours, with personalized response
  • Customer receives package in 5 days or fewer
  • Customer can shop in 5 minutes or fewer
  • Checkout takes 6 clicks or fewer
  • Merchant provides real-time inventory in shopping cart or product page
  • Online shipping status can be accessed
  • Shopping cart provides order confirmation
  • Merchant sends email order confirmation sent with order number included

    Surprisingly, the average time for merchants to send personalized responses to email questions increased over the year to a long 25 hours. J.Crew was the least responsive, taking over 23 hours to reply, while RedEnvelope was the overwhelming leader, needing just 8 minutes for speedy customer service.

    RedEnvelope credits their winning response time to customer service representatives that are trained to handle three channels of customer communication – calls, chats, and emails – and the company finds that the blended approach allows for the highest level of flexibility in serving customers.

    During non-peak volume, RedEnvelope's customer service representatives multitask – answering calls, chats, and emails – and during seasonal peaks when email volume can increase tenfold, a small dedicated group of chat and email representatives are used to supplement the efforts of the call center.

    CompUSA, Lands' End, and Petco only took 2 business days to deliver the goods, while Crutchfield, J. Crew, Orvis, and Powell's customers waited 5 business days for their items to arrive. Men's Wearhouse made shopping the easiest needing only 2 clicks to check-out, while more than half of the top 12 list required 5 clicks or more.

    E-mail Response and Fulfillment Times Among Top E-tailers,
    4Q 2003
    Merchant Hrs/Minutes
    to Answer
    E-mail
    Business
    Days to
    Receive Item
    Time to Shop
    (in minutes)
    Clicks to
    Check-out
    Ann Taylor 3 hr/40 min 3 5 5
    CompUSA 2 hr/0 min 2 4 5
    Crate & Barrell 16 hr/0 min 4 4 6
    Crutchfield 1 hr/01 min 5 4 6
    JC Penny 8 hr/36 min Store pickup 3 3
    J Crew 23 hr/14 min 5 4 5
    Lands' End 2 hr/03 min 2 3 4
    Men's Wearhouse 1 hr/13 min Store pickup 3 2
    Orvis 2 hr/44 min 5 3 4
    Petco 4 hr/15 min 2 3 5
    Powell's 8 hr/28 min 5 4 6
    RedEnvelope 0 hr/08 min 4 4 3
    2003's Average of
    100 Sites Shopped
    25 hr/00 min 4.4 days 3.67 min 4.6 clicks
    2002's Average of
    100 Sites Shopped
    18 hr/73 min 4.4 days 4.08 min 4.9 clicks
    Source: e-tailing group

    Freedman comments on the results: "On the whole I believed they fared exceptionally well. There's room for improvement in response times and I believe that they must remain vigilant in their overall customer service as it will significantly impact their brand. We see many standards being established from online order tracking to post order confirmations."

    Surveyed e-tailers switched shipping alliances from 4Q 2002 to 4Q 2003, with the United States Postal Service (USPS) picking up more packages than UPS and Federal Express. Overall, 48 percent of the 100 merchants that were surveyed used USPS in 2003, an increase from 43 percent the year prior. The biggest year-over-year gain – 12 percentage points – came from USPS Ground, with 45 percent using the shipping method in 2003. USPS Priority dropped from 10 percent of e-tailers in 2002 to only 3 percent in 2003.

    Total UPS shipping dropped from 38 percent in 2002 to 34 percent in 2003, and FedEx lost 2 percentage points in the year – dropping from 15 percent to 13 percent.

    Jupitermedia reporter Beth Cox clearly outlined the reasons why USPS was the preferred shipping method for her business, Sun Coast Orchids, in an early December 2003 ECommerce-Guide article, and the Postal Service didn't disappoint during the busy holiday season. "We had one or two [deliveries] that were delayed, but none that were just lost. One we think was stolen, by a neighbor of our customer. But that's just part of the cost of running a mail-order business, which essentially is what e-commerce is," Cox commented.

    According to Cox, FedEx and UPS haven't offered any types of incentives to capture her business, and their prices aren't competitive with some of the USPS' options. "For the one and two-day stuff, FedEx is absurdly expensive. We recently shipped a large, but light – 5 lb – package from Florida to the Seattle area and it cost more than $48. I had to apologize to the customer," noted Cox.

    Despite Cox's satisfaction with the Postal Service, their delivery system isn't completely problem-free. "...they have frozen some of our plants on airport runways up north. We are now delaying shipments of tropical plants to the frozen wastelands of New England," concluded Cox from her Florida home.

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