Consumers who have come out of hiding to purchase generally have found an improved shopping experience online, according to the latest survey from research group ForeSee Results.

This story first appeared in the May 5, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The firm’s Online Retail Satisfaction Index measures Web shoppers’ experiences with the top 100 Internet retailers as measured by sales volume. The spring edition, to be released today, found that Web sellers mostly garnered more positive ratings than they did a year ago, when many were in survival mode.

This year, the poll’s composite score set a record high of 78 on the survey’s 100-point scale, up almost 5 points from a drop-off last year. According to the survey’s creators, a score of 80 is generally considered excellent, while underperformers tend toward the 70 range. A year ago, 16 percent of the list posted a 69 or lower.

“Retailers were generally making less changes and less improvements to their Web sites,” said study author Larry Freed, explaining the slide in overall customer satisfaction during the recession. Freed, who is ForeSee’s president and chief executive officer, said other factors, including slashed inventories and more price-conscious consumers, contributed to last year’s figure.

L.L. Bean led among the 23 apparel and accessories retailers on the list with a score of 82, and was followed by Coldwater Creek Inc., at 80. Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. and the Victoria’s Secret unit of Limited Brands Inc. each logged a 79. In the mass merchant category, J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Kohl’s Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. all made the top 10 with a score of 80. Beauty firm Avon Products Inc. came in third in the overall rankings with a score of 83, while Web giants Netflix Inc. and Inc. took first and second, respectively.

Freed said though consumers have been more actively looking for deals, price was not the only factor that shaped their site experiences. He noted that ease of navigation and the ability to find product were also important. Freed said retailers with a history of direct selling, such as L.L. Bean and Avon, have been successful online because they can focus more closely on such issues.

ForeSee conducts the study using the University of Michigan-developed American Customer Satisfaction Index. The firm polled 23,400 opt-in respondents who had visited the top 100 online retail sites during a two-week stretch in February. According to the research firm, retailers that perform favorably on the index tend to reap better revenues and profits than those that do not.

“At the end of the day, satisfied consumers are going to be more loyal, they’re going to come back more often [and] they’re going to tell more people,” Freed said.

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