Report: Web Retailers Slow to Respond to Customers

Online retailers, especially pure-play e-tailers, did a poor job of responding quickly to customer service requests during the holiday season, according to a report released Thursday by Jupiter Media Metrix (Nasdaq: JMXI).

Jupiter said that its survey found that only 30 percent of Web retailers answered basic customer service requests sent via e-mail within six hours.

Shows Improvement

That is a slight improvement over the 27 percent response rate during the third quarter, but well below the 38 percent that had a six-hour response rate during the first quarter of 2001.

The numbers are cause for concern, said Jupiter senior analyst David Daniels, who advises e-tailers to act quickly to improve response times as customers return to the Web to inquire about returns and seek follow-up advice.

“The implications of unsatisfying online service remain particularly harsh,” Daniels said. “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.”

No Reply At All

While 33 percent of Internet-only e-tailers responded within six hours, compared to 28 percent for retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence, pure-plays were more likely to be less responsive overall, Jupiter found.

In fact, 40 percent of online-only retailers took more than three days to respond or did not respond to e-mails at all, compared with 28 percent of brick-and-mortar retailers in the same category.

Jupiter said its customer surveys have found that slow response to questions is a major factor in driving customers to a competitor, with 57 percent of consumers saying a delayed response would prompt them to find a new place to shop.

And bad online customer experiences can spill into offline stores as well. Jupiter found that 53 percent of consumers would be less likely to buy from a brick-and-mortar store if the retailer’s Web site was slow to respond.

Time to Upgrade

Just 3 percent of shoppers said slow response would have no impact at all on their choice of shopping venues.

“It’s time for retailers to focus on the basics and invest in critical e-mail customer service automation systems,” said Daniels. Less than half of all Web sites have such a system in place, he added. “This in part explains this season’s lackluster online customer service performance.”

Rather than try to use deep price discounts to win back or retain unhappy customers, Jupiter advised retailers to inform customers of their plans to upgrade their sites to enable better responses, and to involve them in the process through Web surveys.

Jupiter’s report was based on a check of 250 leading Web sites and a survey of 2,110 consumers.

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