NEW YORK — The riddle raised by the E-tailing Group’s first back-to-school Mystery Shopping Study is why so few retailers are integrating their online and offline presences to make the most of the season. The National Retail Federation, for one, has estimated that consumers will spend $14 billion on back-to-school this year.
While 85 percent of the Web sites studied offered in-store returns, only 33 percent promoted in-store pickup of products purchased online, for example.
Nor was it easy to execute returns of goods bought online at related stores. In 44 percent of the cases studied, the return process required the aid of a store manager to override the system. The reason? Internet and store order numbers or procedures weren’t compatible. Often, invoices from Internet transactions did not provide the information needed by store associates to perform the procedure, like what tax, if any, was paid, or what credit card was used.
In addition, said E-tailing Group president Lauren Freedman, “A lot of the problems go back to how well store associates are trained and the high rate of turnover in those jobs.”
Retailers that effectively integrated online and offline channels, Freedman said, include Abercrombie & Fitch; Target; REI; Famous Footwear, and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
The Chicago-based E-tailing Group’s b-t-s sample comprised 25 e-commerce sites, drawn from the 100 sites it surveys for its annual holiday study, based on the share of seasonal goods sold. Visits to 16 stores offering shop online/return in-store services were also visited.
Perhaps jaded by the dot-com bust, retailers’ propensities to slap their Web site’s URL on every shopping bag and hangtag is over. So much so, that only half the stores surveyed did it at all. Among those, 63 percent put the Web site address on a sales receipt, half posted it on a main store door, and 25 percent placed it on shopping bags.
Other notable lapses were the failure of two-thirds of the e-tail sites sampled to promote in-store events and the failure of 84 percent of the sites to highlight products as having been advertised in other media.
On the plus side, half of the sites surveyed enabled users to buy online using item numbers from their sister catalogs and 92 percent of the sites featured a form to order a free catalog.
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