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Holiday Shoppers Don't Want a Web of Confusion

The Customer Loyalty Clause: Keep Online Holiday Shoppers Smiling

In the mid-1990s, Amazon, Dell, and Cisco systems were among the first major players to start selling products over the Internet, launching an online buying revolution that has shown tremendous growth year after year.

In the infancy of online shopping, consumers were so in awe of this cutting-edge way to buy books, shoes, and computer hardware, they had few expectations or standards upon which to base the experience. But as technology has changed and consumers have become more comfortable with online purchasing, expectations have changed. Customers demand more out of their online retailers than ever before, putting the pressure on all businesses to concentrate on customer satisfaction during the online buying experience and focus on the function of their websites.

“The No. 1 priority in customer satisfaction is ease of site navigation,” said Brian Ward of a prominent Canadian consulting firm. “We live in an impatient cyberworld, where the span of attention of most online shoppers is ‘point and click.’ So, the key is to give shoppers an online experience that provides pertinent information fast, and allows them to order online or find an offline location (if one exists) quickly.”

In 1997, online retailers were head-over-heals about reaching the $1 billion mark in holiday sales. This holiday season, that number will exceed $100 billion. And, the average online shopper is predicted to spend over $1,200 this holiday season on gifts, compared to $681 in 2005.

This sales increase impacts online opportunities and continues to test customer loyalty. For retailers selling online, the larger opportunity during the holiday season comes from increased levels of spending from existing online buyers.

Existing online buyers encounter more and more choices every holiday season, and customer satisfaction surveys – like the ones conducted by the National Business Research Institute (NBRI) – can uncover the needs of consumers, who have become more demanding and fussy as technology has improved.

According to NBRI, consumers were 4% less satisfied with their online shopping experience at the beginning of this holiday shopping season than they were earlier in the year. And, during the holiday shopping season, customer satisfaction fell another 3%. This gradual decline shows consumers won’t settle for less at online stores.

There are two main things that e-tailers can do to help shoppers have an enjoyable gift-giving experience. First, be reliable. Give customers the information they need and deliver on it. Offer a guaranteed delivery date. This will make a huge impact on the peace of mind of your customers. Second, make your inventory status known. There is nothing worse than spending time searching and selecting gifts only to find that when you try to put them in your basket, none remain.

When it comes to developing customer satisfaction, some e-tailers do it right, and some don’t. It’s spelled out clearly in an annual report called the Internet Retailer’s Top 400 Retail Web Sites list. The report, compiled by Blast Radius Inc., looks at website design, browsing ability, language, and overall experience. A product is also purchased to analyze the delivery and return experiences of the retailers.

Not surprisingly, Amazon, one of the first companies out of the gate to do e-business, is No. 1 in customer satisfaction. Others on the 10 best list include LL Bean, Home Depot, and Barnes & Noble. On the flip side, Costco, QVC, and JC Penney made the 10 worst list. These sites erode their customer base by making the shopping experience clumsy, with sloppy navigation and product presentation, according to the report.

E-tailers should look at the holiday shopping season as a major opportunity to build long term and profitable relationships with their customers. By making it easy, enjoyable, reliable, and a little bit different, customers will continue to reward retailers with their business year-round.

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