Report: E-tail Failures Could Doom Holiday Sales

A new poll by Gartner Group-owned cPulse shows that nearly a quarter of Web shoppers are extremely dissatisfied with their buying experience, leading to worries that online retailers could lose a hefty chunk of business this holiday season.

The data, gathered by using pop-up interviews of more than 137,000 online shoppers at 123 Web sites, showed that 24 percent of online shoppers are extremely dissatisfied with their online encounters and are concerned about online security, shipping costs and timely delivery.

The results echo those of a survey released August 8th by Gartner, which found that of the top 50 consumer e-tail sites, not one rated “good” or “excellent” for online customer service.

“Last year was a wake-up call for online retailers,” cPulse executive vice president Jody Dodson told the E-Commerce Times. “There were many cases where e-tailers promised and didn’t deliver. To do that two years in a row is going to have a depressing effect on e-commerce.”

Security the Top Concern

Customer concern over the security of online transactions is the primary reason consumers balk at buying merchandise over the Internet, the cPulse poll showed. Dodson feels that these concerns are somewhat disproportionate.

“There’s this perception that has been created by a few isolated hacking incidents that is paralyzing consumers from doing their shopping online,” Dodson said. “In reality, the security of Internet shopping is actually quite high. It is much more secure online than it is in the real world.”

Dodson said Internet businesses can reassure customers by posting their security policy prominently on their Web site.

“Education is going to be very important when it comes to making consumers feel good about shopping online,” Dodson noted.

The Cost Also Rises

Hidden shipping and handling costs that pop up in the final stage of checkout are also a turnoff for consumers, the survey showed.

“It’s this type of somewhat sneaky activity that absolutely frustrates customers,” Dodson said. “If you’re trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes in the last step of the process, people will pull out.”

He advised online merchants to either post shipping and handling costs at a prominent area of the Web site or build it into the cost of the product.

Other Consumer Frustrations

Dodson said consumers also are frustrated by Web sites that make it difficult for them to locate a product.

“Search technology needs to be flexible and forgiving,” he said, noting that consumers should be able to search a site using a number of variables, such as style or brand name. He also advised site developers to employ search technology that allows consumers to get feedback even if they misspell an item.

Delivery times also should be not only prominently posted but also adhered to, he advised.

“Our opinion is it’s better to be honest with people,” Dodson said.

Potential Waterloo

Online businesses that fail to respond to these customer frustrations are sure to be big losers this holiday season, Dodson predicted.

“Not adhering to these complaints spells disaster,” he said. “It’s 100 percent likely that the e-tailers who really undeliver on a variety of these variables are going to lose their customers.”

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