Fuzzy Customer Focus

We just finished tallying the results for our “2004 Online Retail Study for Customer Focused Excellence.” The study attempts to benchmark retailer’s Web sites using the least subjective criteria possible, such as payment option availability, shipping time estimates, length and ease of checkout processes, product descriptions, image views, and so on. The study doesn’t measure the entire user experience and purposely ignores some of e-tail sites’ more subjective attributes, such as price points, ease of locating products, and brand strength.

Mystery shoppers were instructed to identify a product for purchase. Then, they searched and scored each site for 45 data points in 13 categories. Each data point was given a weighted score, for a total of 100 points. The more data points a site scored, the higher its customer-focused excellence rating.

I have to confess some shock at this year’s findings. With the exception of Amazon.com, there were no repeat winners among the top 12 retailers. Consumer electronics seller Crutchfield.com is perched atop the 2004 list with an 80 percent customer-focused excellence score. Last year’s top performer, Lands’ End, didn’t even rank in the top 12 this year; its score dipped from 81 percent in 2003 to 65 percent.

Persuasive Copy Still Scarce

Though the study reveals some promising signs, we were a little startled to see only 16 of 140 retailers offer “exceptional” product-detail copy. Some of the best are Crutchfield.com, Cooking.com, and Dell.

The study differentiated between exceptional and “better” product detail copy, that is, copy that provides more than just a short blurb. Just over half (76 sites) provide better product detail. Interestingly, of the top 12 retailers, 11 provide better product detail and five offer exceptional product detail.

Reading is the number one activity on each and every Web site. We have to wonder how many dollars are left on the table when most online copy and product descriptions fail to persuade.

We suggest e-tailers resolve that in 2005, they’ll improve their online copy.

More Product Images Needed

The number of sites offering multiple product image views also dipped slightly. In 2003, 38 percent offered multiple views, compared with 35 percent this year. Most sites (109) offer image enlargement.

In some cases, a lack of multiple image views can lose the sale. This skirt is nice, but the women in my life need to see how it hangs, where the zipper is, or how looks from multiple angles before they’ll fork over that credit card number.

Confirm the Order Before Taking the Money

It’s encouraging 116 retailers allow shoppers to review and confirm their orders before they complete a transaction.

Another heartening stat is 68 percent (95 retailers) offer the option to phone an order in at the point of purchase, up from 57 percent in 2003. During October’s Shop.org summit, Lands’ End’s Senior VP Bill Bass shared the fact that when a toll-free number is included on the site, calls shoot up dramatically. Of course, this places an enormous financial strain on the call center. After analyzing the calls, the company realized 80 percent of calls resulte in sales from customers not willing to purchase online.

Ninety-three retailers offer assurances, such as guarantees, return policies, privacy statements, and secure transactions at the point of action. Having these elements available on the site isn’t enough; making them available and visible as shoppers check out builds confidence and demonstrates customer focus.

Registration Required

Eighty-four sites require or request registration to initiate the checkout process. A big no-no! It communicates a hassle is ahead. Instead, give customers a yes/no option to register during the checkout process. You’re already collecting the information. Don’t make shoppers fear they’ll have to enter it twice.

Raising the Bar

Your site doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Direct competitors and other online retailers work hard to increase their sales, too. As more sites invest more time and energy in building customer-focused, conversion-friendly Web sites, the bar rises. Increasingly, customers expect more. Your job is to keep up.

Never operate under the illusion that you’re customer-focused enough. It’s an ongoing process, and it never ends.

Here’s to your customers, and to a promising 2005!

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