By  on August 21, 2013

J. Crew Group Inc. is getting its act together and taking it online.

The New York-based specialty retailer scored substantial improvements in delivery speed and package quality last month to garner the highest ratings among all 100 retailers studied — both within and outside the apparel sector — in StellaService’s survey of e-commerce performance.

StellaService cofounder John Ernsberger noted that J. Crew, which had fallen short of the overall top 10 in the two previous months of benchmarking, cut its average delivery time by two days compared with the June survey, elevating it to a third-place tie with Gap for shipping performance among apparel retailers. It also had the highest ratings among all merchants in rankings for phone performance, despite L.L. Bean’s speedier response times.

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“Crew did best in the areas of professionalism and issue resolution,” Ernsberger noted. “Our analysts evaluate a wide range of service considerations, and results like these illustrate the many ways retailers are making names for themselves in the online environment now that price is less of a differentiator of consumer satisfaction.”

L.L. Bean enjoyed the highest rating of any retailer for e-mail response, averaging 10 minutes faster than its closest competitor, and scoring the least amount of time in connecting customers to a live agent on the phone. It joined Crew, Net-a-porter and Zappos among apparel e-tailers qualifying for the overall top 10 for July.

L.L. Bean and Nordstrom, the dominant e-tailer among the department stores, are the only stores to make the top 10 in each of the first three months the benchmarking report has been made public. Zappos made the cut in June, but not in May.

Among all stores, Sears scored the highest marks among the overall retail sample for shipping, which incorporates factors such as package quality, and HSN led the pack for satisfaction in the area of returns. Among the apparel sellers, Zappos excelled in shipping and Net-a-porter for returns.

In the department-store category, Nordstrom grabbed top marks for phone, e-mail and, in a statistical dead heat with Bloomingdale’s, returns, with Saks Fifth Avenue besting the shipping criterion and finishing second for phone response. Ranked with the department stores, Barneys made the top five for all four service metrics — fifth in phone response and returns and fourth in e-mail and shipping.

Stella noted that was the only retailer in the department-store category to register 100 percent resolution of customer issues on the phone.

Lululemon Athletica Inc.’s site,, dominated the sportswear category last month, getting the best scores in phone, e-mail and shipping. was the top performer in returns while Under Armour Inc. finished second for phone and e-mail performance.

The data are compiled by a staff of about 60 online mystery shoppers who rate a sample of 100 retailers across 11 separate retail categories on the basis of phone service, e-mail responses, shipping and packaging and returns.

Kevon Hills, head of research, emphasized the depth of the information sought by Stella’s analysts. “It’s a combination of quantitative and qualitative data,” he said. “We want to know how quickly a caller is getting someone on the phone and how fast the call is processed or the e-mail is answered, but we also look into who’s going above and beyond to make sure issues are addressed and the consumer is having a memorable experience.”

StellaService began disclosing results of its monthly benchmarking three months ago, just after the New York-based firm agreed to a multiyear licensing agreement with Google Inc.

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