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 Store Sites Gain In Customer Respect Index

BRICK-AND-MORTAR RETAILERS–ONCE THE LAGGARDS IN online sales–are winning more and more respect from consumers, according to the latest ranking of the Customer Respect Group, an Ipswich, Mass.-based company that evaluates Web site performance. While Overstock.com came in with the highest score–a 7.4 out of 10 ranking–Lowe’s came in second, Kmart No. 4, and Sears No. 5, and retailers dominated the Top 25. “That’s something we wouldn’t have seen even two years ago,” says Terry Golesworthy, president of Customer Respect Group. “These companies were often at the bottom of the list.”

Overall, the index hit 6.1 on a 10-point scale, a slight improvement from 2006. The biggest change in the last year, he says, is that more and more Web sites are using real-time customer service tools such as pop-up windows and click-to-call features, “which lets sites help customers with what they’re doing right now.” Previously, many of the large Web sites offered consumers only a chance to e-mail questions–”a process that usually takes 24 hours and often results in an abandoned shopping cart,” he says.

“And features like ’store pick-up’ are great because they remove one more level of discomfort–now a consumer can be confident that a Web purchase will be here in time for Christmas because he can pick it up himself,” he says. “That’s another way to respect the customer, to say: ‘We’re tying to find as many ways as possible to make you comfortable shopping at this site’.”

But there is still a glaring gap between the way consumers experience a brand online and in-store, and consumers continue to be distrustful of the differences they see in price, benefits and services.

“On Black Friday, we saw a lot of frustrated consumers, because there were in-store deals that were better than what they could find online. And the same was true on Cyber Monday–consumers read about great prices on the Web, but then couldn’t find them in stores. And as more consumers do online research before shopping, the more of a problem that disconnect becomes,” he says.

Another shift, he says, is that while retailers tend to invest the most in making Web sites easier for consumers to use, banking and insurance companies are also making progress–but still have a way to go to win customer trust. “There is a big gap between people who will research a mortgage or insurance rates on the Web, and then actually buy it. Because these sites have found that so many customers will research rates and then disappear, they’ve become more innovative in adding click-to-call pop-ups to their sites, as well,” he says.

Finally, he says the most trusted sites are those that are going out of their way to reassure people’s privacy concerns. “Right now, people are very concerned about identity theft, and they don’t want to get tons of junk e-mails from other companies,” Golesworthy says. “The sites that are doing well in this index are those that are making a big point of explaining to customers that their privacy will be respected, and that their data won’t be sold to other companies.”

Sarah Mahoney can be reached at sarah@mediapost.com

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