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Nine Merchants Meet the e-tailing group’s Criteria for Excellence in Online Customer Service

Customer Service, Satisfaction, and Choice Differentiate These Leading e-Tailers

January 18, 2010

Results of the e-tailing group’s 13th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, conducted during 4Q ’10, recognize nine merchants out of the 100 benchmarked for excelling at online customer service. “These merchants understand that efficiency and convenience are essential to deliver a best-in-class online shopping experience. Notably Lands’ End is the only merchant to meet our criteria for three consecutive years while Coach and Saks Fifth Avenue are repeat achievers for two years running. We commend all nine for their stellar performance,” expressed Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group.

Methodology and Benchmarking Criteria

To qualify as “top performing” each of the 100 merchants was ranked using benchmarking criteria extrapolated directly from results of the survey. The top merchants for online customer service were revealed via a process whereby sites were systematically eliminated for not possessing “must have” criteria in the following order of importance:

  1. Keyword search
  2. Four or fewer days to receive package
  3. Adequately and correctly answer e-mail question within 24 hours; providing a specific answer
  4. On-site home page accessibility of toll-free phone number (2.5 or higher on a scale of 3.0)
  5. CSR product knowledge when calling toll-free# (2.0 or higher on a scale of 3.0)
  6. Five or fewer clicks to checkout
  7. Email shipping confirmation sent
  8. Email order confirmation sent with order number and customer service information included
  9. Real-time inventory in shopping cart or on product page

Four metrics from the survey are charted here to demonstrate the exemplary performance of these top sites for customer service versus the average of the 100 sites shopped.

Elements of Customer Service Excellence

From baseline customer service demands to customer satisfaction elements coupled with customer choice, smart merchants are adopting these features and functions.

1. Baseline Customer Service

These are the essentials that every website should have in place, found on at least 94% of the EG100 sites mystery shopped in 4Q’10.

2. Customer Satisfaction
Efficient checkout goes a long way toward keeping customers happy so we are pleased to report the number of clicks in the process decreasing to 5.13 this year versus 5.42 last year, moving in the right direction.

Merchants boast of timely delivery yet our mystery shoppers found the average number of business days to receive an item on the rise, from 4.05 last year to 4.26 this year. We also broke out how many business days it actually took to receive goods and 38% delivered in 5+ days.

Listing customer service hours on one’s site (78% in 2010 vs. 79% in 2009) is a simple means of satisfying shoppers. Here again we dug a bit deeper to identify the specifics of customer service availability. Just under one-third provide this support 24×7 – the gold standard.

Knowledgeable customer service representatives (CSRs) also keep shoppers satisfied. Each merchant was contacted by one of our mystery shoppers with a product query. On a three-point scale CSRs ranked an average of 2.13 (99 sites) this year versus 2.24 last year for product knowledge. The overall customer experience ranked 2.24 (99 sites) versus. 2.37. This is an obvious area for improvement.

3. Customer Choice

Payment options let customers decide how to pay for products. The presence of PayPal is on the rise with 40% of the EG100 now offering the service up from 34% last year. Deferred payment plans like BillMeLater are holding their own (48% in 2010 vs. 47% in 2009).

More merchants see the value in having shoppers pre-populate customer information (96% in 2010 vs. 89% in 2009) as the expediency-factor fosters repeat business.

Customer control extends to the ability to move items or an entire cart to a wish list (41% 2010 vs. 32% 2009) or to a lesser degree save a cart (7% in 2010 vs. 12% in 2009).

International shipping is also on the rise with 42% of the EG100 now enabling shipping beyond Japan and Canada, an increase from 35% last year.

In summary

“Best-in-class customer service is essential as merchants look to differentiate themselves from their competition and capture greater market share,” noted Freedman. “Sadly we see too many merchants where touch points provide poor information and unsatisfactory customer experiences. As ecommerce continues to evolve, those who hone in on the nuances that make shopping more convenient, efficient, and personal will be positioned to thrive.”

Findings from the complete 13th Annual Mystery Shopping Study will be summarized in a report which will be available to purchase and download in early February. Copies may be pre-ordered by contacting Lauren Freedman via email to or by phone 773-975-7280.

About the e-tailing group, inc.
The e-tailing group, inc. serves as the multi-channel merchant’s eye, bringing a merchant’s sensibility to evolving the multi-channel shopping experience. A Chicago-based consultancy, they provide practical strategic perspectives and actionable merchandising solutions to merchants selling online as well as to enabling technology firms.

For more background about this research study, including a list of merchants surveyed or for additional information on the e-tailing group, inc. please contact Lauren Freedman at or visit the e-tailing group website

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