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As a larger and larger portion of retail sales in the U.S. move online, customer service has become essential to e-commerce businesses that want to attract shoppers and keep them.E-commerce also has become critical to the profits of brick-and-mortar operations like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. Inc.
Research firm comScore reports that from the start of November through December 21, e-commerce sales reached $38.7 billion — up 16% from the same period in 2011. Very few retailers can ignore the growth in online shopping and the need for the e-commerce customer to believe he or she is being treated well.
Research company ForeSee recently released its “E-Retail Satisfaction Index (U.S. Holiday Edition),” which is based on more than 24,000 customer surveys conducted between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The companies covered by the study are 100 of the largest online retailers based on revenue.
On a 100-point scale, the average retailer in the survey scored a 78. The benchmark against which all other e-tailers should be measured is Amazon.com Inc., which also happens to be the largest e-commerce company in the world.
ForeSee reports that Amazon’s 88 rating this year is “the highest score ever attained by any retailer measured in the holiday Index since 2005.” It is not clear whether Amazon is large because its customer service is so excellent, or whether its customer service is excellent because it is so large.
Some of the retailers included in the study have sales presences outside the internet — unlike Amazon. A number have brick-and-mortar or catalogue businesses, so online sales are only a portion of their total revenue. And, for some large retailers, their online sales efforts are still in the infancy.
As measured by comScore, Walmart has the second most visited e-commerce site in America after Amazon. But online sales are only 2% of Walmart’s U.S. revenue. Online revenue may be important to the future of large retailers, but e-commerce results are not crucial now. L.L.Bean ranks second on the Foresee satisfaction list, but it has physical stores in 10 states.
Crate & Barrel is very near the bottom of the Foresee ratings, and it has more than 100 stores. Online-only retailers obviously have more riding on online customer service than retailers that operate stores or catalogues.
One final observation worth making is that the number of visitors an e-commerce site has does not appear to be related to its customer service rating. Companies appear to hold their own fates based on their retail practices and not their visitor count.
Amazon.com is among the top sites for customer satisfaction, with 119.8 million unique visitors last month. 1800Contacts.com is also among the top-rated sites and had only 489,000 unique visitors.
24/7 Wall St. began its analysis with Foresee‘s rankings, which are based on grades for content, website functionality, price and merchandise.
We added the number of visitors to each website based on research firm Compete’s data and then provided analysis about what each company sells online and how e-commerce is related to the balance of its operations.
Audience: 1.1 million unique visitors.
FTD -- or Florists' Transworld Delivery Inc. -- was founded in 1910. Today it is a unit of United Online Inc.
Customers can order flowers via an 800 number or online, which can be delivered to many nations around the world.
FTD also operates through a number of independent florists. The FTD website shows a broad array of flowers and flower arrangements, along with candy, jewelry and plants.
Type: Computers and accessories
PCConnection.com is a small competitor to major PC and electronics sites, including TigerDirect and NewEgg, one of the most highly rated sites by Foresee.
The PCConnection website is owned by PC Connection Inc. The company claims that it offers 300,000 products from more than 1,600 manufacturers.
A large part of PC Connection's revenue comes from its divisions that work with the government, small and mid-sized businesses, and companies that need IT consulting.
It its most recent quarter, the firm reported revenue of $561.3 million. PCConnection.com offers thousands of PC products, including monitors, printers and scanners, as well as Apple Inc. hardware.
Type: Furniture, home goods
Audience: 2.2 million unique visitors
Crate & Barrel has over 100 stores and a catalogue business.
The retailer, founded in 1962, sells a full line of furniture for both homes and offices.
It also has a large inventory of dining room furniture and dining accessories and several lines of bed and bath supplies.
The website is part of Nutrisystem Inc., which went public in 1999.
It offers special diet programs for men, women and diabetics. The diet programs are complemented by online and telephone counseling.
The company also offers a community centre to encourage people who are trying to lose weight to tap into support groups.
Since 2001, it has marketed some of its products and services on QVC.
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