Worst of the online retail lot for two years running

PCMall and PCConnection pass another year at the bottom of the e-commerce barrel

That's the uncomfortable verdict for PCMall and PCConnection rendered last week by the "ForeSee Results Top 100 Online Retail Satisfaction Index." Not only did those two outlets bring up the rear among computer and electronics sites, they brought up the rear, period.

From the ForeSee report: "Thirteen points separate category leaders Apple and Newegg from laggards PCConnection and PCMall, whose scores of 67 (out of a possible 100) put them at the bottom of the computer and electronics category and of the entire Index for the second year in a row."

Emphasis mine. And the entire index -- based on the methods behind the University of Michigan's decade-long American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) -- represents 100 sites that sell, in addition to the tech stuff, everything from books and clothing to sporting goods and home furnishings. Netflix, QVC and Amazon lead the overall pack.

Anyone can have a bad year. Two in a row at the bottom of this e-commerce barrel represents a trend.

What do the "laggards" have to say for themselves? Neither publicly traded company had responded to inquiries I sent them last Tuesday. (The PCConnection site is particularly unsatisfying from a journalist's perspective in that I could find no public relations contact and was relegated to e-mailing the Webmaster and sales department in the hope that someone might direct my inquiry to the appropriate someone.)

Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, did answer my questions regarding his company's survey and virtual condemnation of PCMall and PCConnection.

Does the data reveal any reasons for the relatively poor performances of those two sites?

There are four primary elements that drive customer satisfaction for the Web sites: brand (how well the site communicates the brand attributes, is consistent with the image of the brand, etc.); site experience (navigation, organization, features, etc.); merchandise (variety, desirability, availability); and price (suitability and competitiveness).

We don't disclose the details at the element level for individual companies. However, it is reasonable to say that PCConnection and PCMall have an opportunity to improve across all of those elements.

Across the group of companies measured, typically we see brand as the highest-impact element. In other words, if companies can improve customer perception of the brand element, it will have the biggest possible impact on their satisfaction and purchase behavior. Site experience is typically the second-biggest impact, followed by merchandise and then price.

The good news for these two sites is that there is great upside opportunity if they improve the satisfaction of their site visitors.

What conclusions, if any, can an online shopper draw from the disparity between the best and the worst performers on this index?

The wide range in scores between the companies indicates that there are strong leaders in this category and other sites that are struggling. They will have to raise the customer satisfaction level or will continue to see significant pressure on their ability to be successful and grow.

What advice would you give these two that might help drag their ratings out of the cellar?

My advice would be to listen to your customers. There is no more important voice that you should be hearing than that of your site visitors. And to remember that satisfaction is a combination of what consumers get and what they expect. It is important to manage their expectations. It is a mistake for retailers to exaggerate marketing claims or set an expectation during the site experience that cannot be met.

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Paul McNamara

Network World
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