Online Shopping Up, Gripes, Too

NEW YORK — The country’s online consumers spent a projected, record-breaking $74 billion on the Internet this year — but many were less than enamored with the quality of their cyber-shopping experience.<br><br>That’s the...

NEW YORK — The country’s online consumers spent a projected, record-breaking $74 billion on the Internet this year — but many were less than enamored with the quality of their cyber-shopping experience.

This story first appeared in the December 31, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That’s the portrait painted by survey results released separately Monday by Internet ratings agency comScore Networks and online customer satisfaction consultant ForeSee Results.

Curiously, while cybershoppers were busy spending record amounts online this holiday, they rated the overall experience a 69 out of 100 points, sending a strong message that e-tailers need to do more to keep online shoppers returning to their e-commerce sites in 2003. The ranking represented a decline of eight basis points from the 77 e-tailers rated with consumers polled during the 2001 holiday season.

That slide in customer satisfaction came even as 59 percent of those surveyed by ForeSee said they were “highly satisfied” with their online shopping experience this holiday.

“Expectations of online shoppers continue to rise year after year,” said Larry Freed, chief executive officer of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based ForeSee Results, explaining the paradox. “After the great improvements made in services at retail Web sites last year, shoppers expected even more this year.”

And the basic blocking and tackling maneuvers are still where online stores can make the longest strides. “E-tailers can make the biggest impact by improving their product browsing and ordering capabilities,” Freed said. “Those are the areas online consumers said were most important to them, and thus the ones most likely to improve customer satisfaction.

“The 10 percent of online shoppers who were ‘extremely unsatisfied’ with their online experience this year presents the industry with a classic opportunity,” Freed noted. “Online retail is a lot more focused on achieving profit. They are a lot more focused on controlling costs — and inventories — than they were a few years ago, and that means some people got the products they wanted and some didn’t.”

ForeSee’s satisfaction data is based on a random sample of 300 online shoppers, who were surveyed during the week before Christmas using the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index methodology. ForeSee measures customer satisfaction with a variety of Web site features and functions and adjusts for how significantly each component affects purchase behavior and loyalty.

Although they registered complaints about some aspects of online shopping, consumers this year still managed to spend about 39 percent more than the $53.1 billion they shelled out in 2001, according to comScore. Roughly $5.86 billion went for apparel and accessories this year through Dec. 20, comScore estimated. For the full-year 2001, consumers spent $5.27 billion for apparel and accessories purchased online.

Jewelry was among the fastest-growing e-tail categories this holiday. Sales surged 45 percent to $216 million between Nov. 1 and Dec. 20.

The ease of comparing prices was the top driver of online shopping this holiday, ForeSee found, followed by time savings, ease of comparing products and saving money.

Currently, men account for 49 percent of the country’s online population, but they represented 51 percent, or 12 million, of the 23.6 million shoppers who made visits in November to price-comparison sites. Indeed, the consumer who most often shopped price-comparison sites on the Internet in November was a 35- to 44-year-old male who had a minimum household income of at least $60,000, comScore said. Last month, U.S.-based users of the comparison services represented 17 percent of the country’s 143.3 million Internet users, with the greatest share of the bargain hunters — 9.6 million, or 41 percent — browsing DealTime.com. BizRate.com ranked second, with 30 percent, or 7.1 million users.