In about one-third of the 37 million US households having access to the Internet, lives at least one person who placed an order or made a reservation online from February to April of 1999, according to Dataquest Inc., a unit of the Gartner Group. Of these households, 2.4 million, or 20 percent, experienced problems.
Dataquest research showed that of households experiencing problems, 49 percent reported they placed online orders that did not arrive. Nevertheless, in more than half of these households, the customer was billed for the order. For 25 percent of the households that experienced problems, the main problem was the inability to contact the merchant’s customer service department via email.
Despite some early stumbling on the part of merchants, overall consumer satisfaction with the online purchasing process is quite high, with 88 percent of all respondents giving it a satisfactory rating.
“The primary key to overall consumer satisfaction with online purchasing to date is the ease of placing orders or reservations,” said Dr. Harry Doyle, VP for Dataquest’s Interactive Home: Technology & Infrastructure US program. “Clearly this is critical to the future of e-commerce, for when an online experience is consistently more satisfactory than in the physical world, and at the same or lower price, consumers’ habits are likely to change permanently. But it is crucial to remember there is no second chance to win customer loyalty.”
In the rush to participate in e-commerce, some efforts have been less than perfect. According to Dataquest, many merchants have not implemented effective links to back-office systems, nor have they given sufficient consideration to online customer support. Dr. Hoyle said that “anytime shopping” brings with it user expectations for “anytime support,” which merchants have been unable to fulfill.
“It is vital to win the customer loyalty at this stage in the development of e-commerce,” Hoyle said. “Internet merchants have the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage if they can provide outstanding and imaginative online customer service.”
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