Some Strides in Online Service

The e-tailing group has concluded its “Mystery Shopping Study” for the 4th quarter of 2002 and found significant improvements in online customer service over 4Q 2001. Using specific criteria – such as email response time, clicks to checkout, order confirmations, inventory status, and delivery time, among other measurements – the e-tailing group secretly shopped 100 e-commerce sites to help determine the state of online customer service.

Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group, comments on the results: “The evolution of e-commerce was quite apparent in our 4th quarter 2002 Mystery Shopping Study. Overall, merchants were focused on better editing and execution of core customer service functionality. While this certainly contributed to the rise in e-commerce revenues over this past holiday season, it made selecting this ‘top ten’ list all the more difficult, necessitating even more stringent qualifying criteria than last year. We congratulate each of those selected as well as every merchant that garnered profitable ROI from continued site enhancements.”

Top 10 B2C Sites for Customer Service
Merchant Hrs/Minutes
to Answer
Days to
Receive Item
Time to shop
(in Minutes)
Clicks to
Check-out 1.4 hrs 2 4 4
CDNOW 2.4 hrs 4 5 3
CDW 15 min 1 3 6 20.4 hrs 4 4 5
HSN 9.7 hrs 5 4 5 19.8 hrs 3 4 6
Lands’ End 5.2 hrs 2 3 3
Musician’s Friend 12 min 5 5 6
Office Depot 3.5 hrs 1 4 5
WalMart 20.3 hrs 4 3 6
Average of 100
Sites Shopped
18.7 hrs 4.4 days 4.08 min 4.93 clicks
Source: the e-tailing group

Differences and improvements have been measured in the 4Q 2002 study from the 4Q 2001 study, noticeably in the top ten merchants, shopping time, clicks to checkout, and email response time.

Absent from the 2002 list are these top ten winners from 2001:,,, JC Penney, KB Toys, Nordstrom’s, Smith & Hawken, and Sports Authority.

The 4Q 2002 survey revealed a marked improvement in email response time – 21.08 hours in 4Q 2001 to 18.7 hours in 4Q 2002 – and shopping time – 4.08 minutes in 2002 compared to 5.3 minutes in the 2001 study. There were less clicks to checkout in 2002 too – 4.93 in 2002, as opposed to 5.36 ion 2001.

Room for improvement was indicated in the amount of business days it took to receive an order. Items arrived sooner in the holiday 2001 study than it did a year later: 3.8 days compared to 4.4 days.

How well e-commerce sites integrate online and in-store traffic could be a contributing factor in customer service, since shoppers with multiple channel options have greater probabilities of getting their needs met. The e-tailing group did not include multi-channel retailing among the customer service criteria, but Nielsen//NetRatings compiled measurements on cross-traffic success.

Top 10 Retail Web Sites Integrating
Online & In-Store Traffic, U.S. Home & Work, Winter 2003
Retail Store Brands Index Number
Coach 2,707
Neiman Marcus 1,862
J. Crew 1,077
Bloomingdale’s 1,002
Williams-Sonoma 956
Pottery Barn 831
Crate & Barrel 784
Nordstrom 568
Eddie Bauer 508 476
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings @Plan

The Winter 2003 study from Nielsen//NetRatings @Plan service is benchmarked off an index number of 100, representing the average usage patterns of the Internet audience as a whole. Described by @Plan as an index number, each figure is a multiple of the 100 base and is used to interpret the degree to which a company’s Web site drives traffic to retail locations.

For instance, the index number reveals that visitors to Coach’s Web site are 27 times more likely to visit a Coach retail location than the average Internet user, and visitors to are 18 times more likely to visit a Neiman Marcus store than the average Internet user.

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