E-Tailers Beat Offline Stores in Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction with e-commerce surpassed that of offline retail by 11.6 percent. That’s according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index released jointly by the University of Michigan and ForeSee Results.

E-commerce’s overall score measured 80 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s (ACSI) 100-point scale. Online retail scored 83, up 2.5 percent from last year’s index. Offline retail scored 74.4 on the scale.

“Generally, the e-commerce sites are doing an excellent job keeping focused on what’s most impactful with consumers,” said ForeSee Results CEO Larry Freed.

Many features raising e-commerce scores are typically referred to as Web 2.0 features. “The better product images, better product specifications, the ability to zoom into products, and so on. User reviews have become critical to the consumer purchasing experience, it adds another flavor that they are used to associating with a retail store,” said Freed.

Web 2.0 features also give way to what the researchers call Consumer 2.0. “One of the things that online has really done is put the consumer in charge,” said Freed. “Something we like to call Consumer 2.0. Consumer 2.0 says the consumer is in control, the transparency across retailers and products is there, and e-commerce is stepping up to the challenge.”

The top e-retail sites include BarnesandNoble.com (88) and Amazon.com (87). Close scores demonstrate brick-and-mortar stores’ ability to compete with Internet pure plays online. “Research outside of this release has shown us that the traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have taken steps forward and started to aggressively compete with pure plays,” Freed said. “The tide is changing, and [retailers] are starting to really play up and take advantage of the online and offline [channels]. Consumers want the multi-channel experience, it’s not specific to one way or the other, they want that capability.”

Online auctions is another sector where online retail sites see increased competition, especially Amazon.com. The aggregate online auction score remained at 78, the same score as a year ago. EBay dipped 1 percent to 80, though it remains a growing threat.

“eBay is selling more and more from small businesses and retailers,” said Freed. “The lines are definitely blurring and becoming closer together.”

eBay sits above other auction sites, largely niche plays like uBID (74) and Priceline (72). “The auction is an interesting category, eBay is clearly the dominant player,” said Freed. “In the auction world, being dominant is more powerful, you own the buyers and the sellers. eBay is going to be very tough to unseat.”

Additional categories grouped in the e-commerce ratings are online travel and brokerage firms. In total, online travel scored a 76, down 1.3 percent from last year. Freed said aggregator sites are being replaced by search sites, and competing with airlines themselves. Aggregator sites are in effect acting as the middle man in the transaction, creating a layer of confusion.

Online brokerage sites like Fidelity (80); Charles Schwab (80); TD Ameritrade (77); and E*Trade Financial (74) brought the category as a whole up to 78, a 2.6 percent improvement over 2005 scores.

“Consumers are getting more and more comfortable doing more transactions online,” said Freed. “We see amongst these companies a huge focus on the customer experience. We’re seeing online brokerage companies trying to close the gap between full service offline and the online experience.”

ACSI data are created from a uniform, national, cross-industry measure of satisfaction with the quality of goods and services available in the U.S. ACSI scores reflect performance based on the relative impacts of various components on overall satisfaction and the likelihood of desirable future behaviors, such as repeat purchases.

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