Archive for December, 1999

Cyber-buyers Find Websites Fail To Deliver

Tuesday, December 14th, 1999

Cyber-shoppers buying Christmas presents via the Internet could be in for a big shock at the poor standard of customer service offered by some companies, a new survey reveals today.

Many of the big-name websites selling books, music CDs, toys, videos and fashion clothing – the Internet’s hottest products – failed a simple e-mail test which formed part of the research carried out by Eric White on behalf of Dial Internet, an Internet marketing consultancy.

One item was ordered from each of the websites surveyed and each was sent an e-mail inquiring about their exchange and refund policies. Apart from their e-mail response, sites were awarded points for payment security, ease of use, competitive pricing, variety of products and delivery speed.

The five websites which came out best for overall performance were eToys.co.uk, debenhams.com, blackstar.co.uk, whsmith.co.uk and yalplay.com.

The five which came out worst were net-megastore.co.uk, tops.co.uk, virgin-mega.com, toysrus.co.uk and waterstones.co.uk.

‘We were surprised that Waterstone’s, a respected High Street brand, came bottom of our table,’ said Mr White today. ‘But they didn’t answer a simple query sent three times by e-mail and they delivered outside the stated delivery time.

‘Virgin’s site was another disappointment,’ he added. ‘Its website is totally designed for the US market and the products are sent from the States. I understand they have plans to launch a UK version but this isn’t available yet. They were slow to answer e-mail and although they delivered relatively quickly from the US in 11 days, this wouldn’t help any last-minute Christmas shoppers.’

Four of the 20 websites surveyed failed to reply at all to an e-mail inquiry sent three times to the relevant customer service address. These were Toys R Us, Toycity.com, online music retailer CDzone (www.cdzone.co.uk) and Waterstone’s. The research also revealed some surprises about pricing.

‘We found a big price discrepancy between sites selling the same product,’ said Mr White. ‘We ordered John Major’s autobiography, which has a recommended price of £25. It cost £12.50 at Waterstone’s site and Bol.com’s site, £15.99 at WH Smith’s site and £20 at amazon’s site even though amazon is renowned for its discounts.’

Traditional high-street retailers like WH Smith and Debenhams came out well in the research. ‘Debenhams has successfully translated its retail service into an online operation,’ said Mr White.

‘The WH Smith site is very informative and simple to use with no fancy graphics that take ages to download,’ he added.

Mike Hawkey, marketing director of Dial Internet, said: ‘A striking feature of the survey was the revelation that companies such as Debenhams and WH Smith – both traditional retailers with huge High Street pedigrees – are giving the ‘pure’ Internet-only companies a run for their money in the e-commerce stakes.

‘The companies who failed a simple e-mail test really need to re-think their customer service as this will only put consumers off,’ he added. ‘As an Internet business, one of the biggest crimes is to fail to respond to a simple e-mail.’