Value Sites Win, Customer Service Loses

A post-holiday report card from Jupiter Media Metrix found that customer service emails are still falling on deaf servers, while Nielsen//NetRatings revealed that value retailers saw the biggest increases in traffic over last year.

According to data from a December 2001 Jupiter Customer Service WebTrack, just 30 percent of the retailers tracked resolved basic customer service requests online within six hours. This is actually a slight improvement over 27 percent in the third quarter of 2001.

“Santa might be relaxing now, but retailers can’t,” said David Daniels, Jupiter senior analyst. “The implications of unsatisfying online service remain particularly harsh. These are peak return and customer service weeks for retailers to focus on retaining holiday shopping customers. Retailers must scrutinize online customer service response times, contact center service levels and staffing resources.”

While a greater percentage of online-only retailers (33 percent) responded to customer service emails within six hours than brick-and-mortar retailers (28 percent) did, online-only retailers were less responsive overall. Forty percent of online-only retailers took more than three days to respond or did not respond to emails at all, compared with 28 percent of brick-and-mortar retailers in the same category.


Retailers Responding to Online Customer Service Inquiries
Time Frame Brick-and-Mortar Online-Only Both
Within 6 hours 28% 33% 30%
6-24 hours 22% 13% 18%
1-3 Days 22% 13% 18%
Longer than 3 days
and no response at all
28% 40% 33%
Source: Jupiter Media Metrix

How important is responding to customers? According to a November 2001 Jupiter Consumer Survey, 57 percent of those polled said that the speed of a retailer’s response to customer service email inquiries would affect their decision to make future purchases from the particular Web site. Even worse, Jupiter analysts have found that the impact of poor customer service online cascades across channels. The survey found that 53 percent of consumers said they would be less likely to buy again from a retailer’s offline store if they had an unsatisfying experience with the online store. Only a mere three percent of consumers surveyed indicated that online service would not affect their future purchases or that they would continue to buy from the merchant regardless of price.

“It’s time for retailers to focus on the basics and invest in critical email customer service automation systems. A recent Jupiter Executive Survey found that only 43 percent of Web sites have an email automation system. This in part explains this season’s lackluster online customer service performance,” Daniels said.

Jupiter analysts advise retailers to invite customers to take part in Web-based surveys to collect customer feedback and capture individual preferences. Furthermore, retailers should use customer interaction records and historical response time data as an attribute to earmark the profiles of customers that had a sub-par shopping experience. This data can be used to fuel personalized marketing campaigns at a later date just for this audience.

Discount Retailers Increase Traffic for 2001

The fastest growing online retailers in terms of traffic for the 2001 holiday season were led by value-oriented sites, according to the Nielsen//NetRatings Holiday eCommerce Index. Columbia House topped the list, as consumers conducted more than 25 million shopping trips at the site in November and December 2001, surging 219 percent since last year. FingerHut.com claimed the No. 2 spot, jumping 144 percent to eight million visits while OverStock.com grew 107 percent to nearly 13 million, posting triple-digit gains.


Fastest Growing E-Tailers, Based on Total Shopping Trips
(U.S., Combined Home and Work)
Rank Site/Property Shopping Trips
(000)
Percent
Change
November
December
2000
November
December
2001
1. Columbia House 7,958 25,386 219%
2. fingerhut.com 3,300 8,051 144%
3. overstock.com 6,215 12,894 107%
4. officedepot.com 5,222 10,003 92%
5. apple.com 10,322 17,642 71%
6. bestbuy.com 13,735 22,389 63%
7. hp.com 17,043 26,067 53%
8. staples.com 5,609 8,509 52%
9. amazon.com* 133,197 198,822 49%
10. circuitcity.com 6,346 8,950 41%
* includes ToysRUs
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

Traffic to consumer electronics and PC manufacturers also grew year-over-year, as sites such as OfficeDepot.com, Apple.com, BestBuy.com, HP.com, Staples.com and CircuitCity.com attracted more shopping visits during the 2001 online holiday season.

But of course no retailer did as well as Amazon, which drew 49 percent more shopping visits during the holidays.

“Despite their already large market share, Amazon.com continues to exceed overall industry growth, further solidifying their leadership position. In terms of sheer size, more shopping was conducted at Amazon.com than the other nine fastest growing e-tailers this holiday season,” said Sean Kaldor, vice president of analytical services at NetRatings.

Computer hardware got an early start and was the first category to peak during the holiday season, jumping 19 percent during the week ending Nov. 11, while consumer electronics and shopping aggregators increased 91 percent and 76 percent, respectively, during the week ending Dec. 2. Specialty gifts was the final category to experience major growth, skyrocketing 198 percent during the week ending Dec. 23.

“Traffic to specialty gifts nearly tripled right before the Christmas holiday, as last-minute shoppers scrambled to find that perfect gift, whereas big-ticket items such as computer hardware and consumer electronics saw a rush of surfers earlier on in the season,” Kaldor said.

Four categories peaked during the week ending Dec. 9, as toys and games, value-oriented sites, apparel and the virtual department stores categories drew many shoppers who wanted to beat the shipping deadlines.

As previously reported by several research firms, after-Christmas online shopping tapered off much more slowly this season, as surfers continued to log on after the holidays to take advantage of post-Christmas sales. Shopping trips to the top e-tailers declined nearly 16 percent from the week ending Dec. 23 to the week ending Dec. 30, but in 2000 traffic fell 27 percent during the same period.

Nielsen//NetRatings Holiday eCommerce Index is comprised of five representative sites in each category, and is meant to act as a barometer to gauge the level of interest in e-commerce sites during the holiday season. A visit is a single trip to a shopping site. Percent change was calculated using the last full week in October as a shopping baseline.


Nielsen//NetRatings Holiday eCommerce Index
Based on Total Shopping Trips

(U.S.,Work & Home)
Categories Category Peak Week Percent Growth
During Peak Week
Specialty Gifts Week Ending Dec. 23 198%
Toys & Games Week Ending Dec. 9 129%
Home & Garden Week Ending Dec. 16 95%
Consumer Electronics Week Ending Dec. 2 91%
Apparel Week Ending Dec. 9 85%
Shopping Aggregators Week Ending Dec. 2 76%
Virtual Department Stores Week Ending Dec. 9 59%
Books/Music/Video Week Ending Dec. 16 40%
Value-Oriented Sites Week Ending Dec. 9 34%
Computer Hardware Week Ending Nov. 11 19%
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

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