Customer satisfaction with the e-commerce sector is recovering after a slight dip in 2005, having shown an improvement of 1.3%, according to the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Commerce Report, which measures e-retail, online auction, e-brokerage and online travel companies.
The report found that clear leaders are emerging within the e-commerce sector. Amazon.com rose by 3.6% to a score of 87, bringing it level with BN.com (Barnes & Noble) at the top of the rankings. And eBay returned to its all-time high score of 78, substantially ahead of all other auction sites. Expedia had the greatest score increase in the online travel category, up 3.9% to 79.
According to online customer satisfaction expert Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, "Some companies have really worked out how to take customer satisfaction to the next level, and the stakes just keep getting higher."
Online retail satisfaction
Online retail is performing considerably better than offline retail in satisfying customers. According to the ACSI, customer satisfaction with online retail is nearly 12% higher than it is in the overall retail industry. E-retail scores climbed 1.3% from one year ago (to 81), while the overall retail industry dropped by 0.3% (to 72.4).
According to Freed: "E-retailers used to be at a disadvantage because customers can't touch and feel their products, but they've worked out that there's a lot more they can offer to make up for that. Today's online stores have evolved significantly, offering advances such as 360-degree views of products, customer reviews, side-by-side product comparisons, and extensive product information and specifications that often exceed what's available in a store or catalogue."
Online broker satisfaction
Interestingly, online broker Charles Schwab gained 4.2% (to 74) and helped drive the online brokerage category up 1.3% to its average score of 76. Since the company's founder and namesake stepped back into leadership, it has improved both financially and in terms of customer satisfaction. Net income tripled for Q4 2005 over the same period in 2004. Meanwhile, E*Trade climbed 1.4% (to 71), and the All Others category gained 1.3% (scoring 79 overall).
In contrast with e-retail, the online brokerage industry has not worked out how to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the web. Though a wealth of information is available online for stocks, mutual funds, and other investment options, much of that information is too sophisticated for the general consumer. As Freed quipped, "Consumers spend more time researching sweaters online than they do researching stocks. Your average consumer will buy stocks on recommendation rather than through research, even though there are lots of tools and analysis at their disposal via the internet."
Online travel satisfaction
The 2004 ACSI scores showed that online travel companies were not succeeding differentiating themselves, but customers began to show their preferences in 2005. After years of parity in the online travel category, Expedia pulled ahead, increasing its score by 3.9% to 79. Travelocity and Orbitz each dropped 1.3% to 75 and 74 respectively. Expedia's big investments in content, including cruises, packages from popular resorts, and user reviews, seem have paid off.