Online Retailers Fail Customer Experience 101

My company just released its “2007 Customer Experience Survey,” revealing both good and bad news.

Bad news first. In aggregate, online retailers fall far short of offering good or even adequate customer experiences. A pathetic 4 out of 330 sites would get a passing grade in Customer Experience 101. It’s frightening to consider how much money is being left on the table and how many conversion opportunities are missed.

The good news? Companies show improvement over the last survey, though they’re falling short on many basics. These basics, however, can be relatively easily addressed and fixed. Companies committed to improving their customers’ online experiences can prioritize lower-cost and less-complex changes to improve their customer experience scores.

Improving Customer Experience Basics

While it’s easy to stare at the puddle of spilled milk and fight back the tears, there’s little profit in it. It’s a bit painful to get a less-than-stellar grade, but the smart marketer will look at missed opportunities and be sure not to miss them again. Provide an intense customer focus, and you’ll see more customers vote for you with their wallets.

Here are some actions retailers can take in the four key customer areas:

  • In product presentations, provide:

  • For fulfillment options, offer:
    • Product availability.
    • Easily visible return policies, shipping policies, and guarantees.
    • Customer-friendly and easy-to-read and -understand return/exchange policies.
    • Gift options.

  • For checkout options, include:
    • Multiple payment options (e.g., by check, PayPal, etc.).
    • Estimated delivery times, and show in-stock availability for items.
    • In-store pickup where physical stores exist.
    • A progress indicator in the checkout process.
    • Simpler or fewer steps or both in the checkout process.
    • Third-party seals and security assurances.

  • For customer service options, implement:
    • Faster and more accurate replies to customer e-mail inquiries.
    • Chat options.
    • A visible phone number for questions and problems.

All these are significant factors that customers have come to expect online. Your customers notice little things that can make a huge difference. Companies that lavish attention on improving customer focus will reap more sales and will experience superior customer-retention rates in the long term.

Key Findings

For our study shoppers visited over 300 of the top online retailer sites. For each site, they answered a series of yes/no questions about the availability of 69 different customer experience factors. The factors were weighted to arrive at an overall score for each site.

The average site score was a disappointing 43 out of 100. The best scoring site,, scored a respectable 67.

The overall leaders:

  1. 67
  2. Best Buy: 66
  3. Compact Appliance: 66
  4. Blue Nile: 65
  5. Eastern Mountain Sports: 64
  6. 63
  7. TigerDirect: 63
  8. CD Universe: 63
  9. eBags: 63
  10. Staples: 63

Our findings coincide with an April 2006 Forrester study that shows only 26 percent of online consumers were satisfied with their shopping experience. A whopping 74 percent weren’t even satisfied! And that 26 percent weren’t delighted, merely “satisfied.” In other words, the shopping experience was, at best, adequate.

It makes one wonder if retailers are racing to see who can be the most adequate.

Some other highlights from our study:

  • 42 percent of retailers don’t offer gift certificates.
  • 24 percent don’t allow customers to enlarge the product image.
  • 37 percent offer multiple product-image views.
  • 33 percent offer customer reviews.
  • 38 percent have difficult-to-read fonts. (This is especially telling considering that this year our average reviewer age was younger than ever. Only 14 percent of sites allow customers to change the default font size.)
  • 43 percent offer free shipping.
  • 61 percent don’t offer any information on the product page regarding in-stock availability.
  • 52 percent have physical stores, but only 10 percent of all retailers offer in-store order pickup.
  • 26 percent don’t offer estimated delivery times.
  • 42 percent provide shipping costs early in the checkout process.
  • 35 percent have a checkout process with more than four steps.
  • 58 percent correctly answer an e-mail question within 24 hours.
  • 20 percent accept payment by check, 10 percent offer Google Checkout, 20 percent accept PayPal, and 18 percent offer deferred payments.

Again, the study focused on the customer experience fundamentals and ignored such factors as price points, impact of site design, and ease in locating products. We aimed to provide insight and a benchmark based on more objective measures.

How well would your site do on some of these customer experience fundamentals?

Related reading