Room for Improvement in Online Customer Satisfaction

Jan 05, 2006 1:06 AM  By

Online sales during the holiday rose nearly 25%, according to estimates ( “Holiday 2005: So Far, So Okay”), but consumer satisfaction hasn’t increased in kind. In fact, during the last week of the holiday shopping season, satisfaction among online shoppers dipped 0.5% from the previous weeks and remained flat in the week following Christmas, according to research firm ForeSee Results.

Granted, the decline was a small one. For the week ending Dec. 25, the aggregate satisfaction score dropped 0.5%, to 77.4 on a 100-point scale, and was flat for the week ending Jan. 1.

“Retailers are getting better and better at managing shipments, but any screw-up, and you lose the customer forever,” says Larry Freed, president/CEO of Ann Arbor, MI-based ForeSee. “However, I heard a lot fewer consumer horror stories this year. I think we got a little lucky this year; there were no major weather storms that played with logistics.”

Overall, consumers were more satisfied with product fulfillment this year than last. Freed credits this in part to online merchants’ doing a better job anticipating customer expectations by keeping hot items such as Xbox 360s and iPods in stock.

“Keeping shoppers happy while they are on the site is just one piece of the satisfaction equation,” says Freed. “A bad experience with fulfillment or customer service could outweigh a positive experience on the site.”

And merchants still have a long way to go in managing consumer expectations, Freed says: “When consumers have to jump through hoops, they aren’t going to be satisfied with their experience, and they most likely aren’t going to come back. I had that experience personally with Apple after Christmas. I ordered an iPod nano and was asked for my credit-card information before basically finding out they were out of stock.”

On-site search and navigation offer the greatest opportunities for improvement, Freed says. “Retailers are selling more products online than they are in their stores, and they need to optimize their Websites so that consumers can find the product they want quicker,” he explains. “Consumers can walk into Target and see hundreds of thousands of items in front of them, but online they are limited to 15 inches of product in front of them.”

ForeSee’s weekly Holiday Shopping Satisfaction Benchmark aggregates customer satisfaction data from random consumers at 33 Websites, including Cabela’s, Gateway, Overstock.com, and Tower Records, and asks questions about 17 elements of the online transaction.