Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — Move over Michelin — the e-tailing group inc. and Direct Marketing Association have just awarded five-star ratings to 10 online merchants that they have found to offer the best customer service in cyberspace.
It’s a roster that includes the Web sites of apparel merchants Nordstrom, J.C. Penney Co., Lands’ End and Kmart (whose bluelight.com has yet to resume selling clothing since it dropped the category last summer).
In order to determine the easiest Web sites to shop, researchers visited 100 online merchants, in 16 categories, during the fourth quarter of 2001. Merchants cited in the Mystery Shopping Study for five-star rankings were reviewed by the e-tailing group and DMA according to the merchandising, checkout process, communication and overall shopping experience at their Internet destinations.
Also making the e-tailing group’s top 10 were Amazon.com, CDNow.com, drugstore.com, KBtoys.com, Smith&Hawken.com and TheSportsAuthority.com.
In releasing results of the study Tuesday, the e-tailing group and DMA listed the leaders in each of five categories. They included: time to shop, Smith&Hawken.com, three minutes, versus an average of 5.3 minutes; clicks to complete checkout, Amazon.com, three clicks, against 5.36 on average; number of business days to receive an item, bluelight.com and LandsEnd.com, each delivering in three days, topping the 3.8-day average.
Still greater gaps separated Nordstrom.com and drugstore.com from their competitors in average response times to customer e-mail queries and average number of days to receive a credit. Nordstrom led the way in answering e-mails, taking just 41 minutes, on average, compared with the group’s average of 21 hours, 8 minutes. And while it typically took the 100 e-tailers sampled an average of 11.9 days to issue a credit, drugstore.com issued credit to the Mystery Shopping Study the next day.

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