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Customer Satisfaction with E-Commerce Stalls

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mattroush Matt Roush
Matt Roush joined WWJ Newsradio 950 in September 2001 to spearhead the...
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The American Customer Satisfaction Index’s annual E-Commerce Report, produced in partnership with Ann Arbor-based ForeSee Results, shows that customer satisfaction with e-commerce Web sites fell 2.6 percent from a year ago to 79.3 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale, its lowest score since 2004. 

Falling satisfaction with online retail pulled down the aggregate satisfaction with the e-commerce sector overall, which also includes online brokerage and online travel.

“Satisfaction with e-commerce and retail is off from a year ago overall, but the individual company results are mixed, and some organizations manage to find ways and resources to improve the customer experience,” said ACSI Founder Claes Fornell, professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “Still, any downward pressure on satisfaction does not bode well for sustained spending growth at a time when the economy could use it.”

Satisfaction with online retail dipped 3.6 percent to 80, as customer satisfaction with smaller e-retailers suffered a major drop. The “all others” category, which is an aggregate of smaller e-retailers and other companies not individually measured, plunged 6 percent to 78.

But some of the most notable names in e-retail continue to dominate.  Amazon, up 1 percent to 87, and Netflix, down 1 percent to 86, switched places at the top of the industry, while and eBay gained 3 percent to 81.

Amazon may have had smaller profits than predicted, but it grew its market share and is in position to continue to lead the industry in sales. Netflix may prove to be ahead of the online entertainment curve by offering less expensive streaming-only accounts. Its satisfaction barely slipped despite a shift in business strategy, which is an indication it is doing the right thing.

“In any economic downturn, both businesses and consumers look to improve their bottom line, but the largest companies with the flexibility to offer the discounts and promotions will satisfy a thrifty consumer and engender long term loyalty,” said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results.  

Customer satisfaction with online brokerage firms remained flat at 78, but Charles Schwab overtook Fidelity at the top for the first time ever.  Charles Schwab gained a point to 80, while Fidelity moved in the opposite direction, slipping one point to tie the industry aggregate of 78.

But the biggest mover is E-Trade, which gained 3 percent to 76 and has improved 10 points since it was first measured in 2000.  ForeSee Results research shows that E-Trade’s customers tend to be younger and more likely to interact with the company through newer media like Facebook and mobile apps.

“Charles Schwab and Fidelity know their customers better and are beating the Internet pure-play e-brokerages, which is impressive for the oldest and most traditional names in the game,” said Freed. “But E-Trade is carving itself a niche by targeting a different kind of customer and has made big strides over the last 10 years in terms of satisfaction, which is a proven predictor of financial results.

Customer satisfaction with online travel jumped 1.3 percent to a new all-time high of 78, and an increase of 4 percent since 2008.  Expedia scored 79 to lead the industry, and it has led or held a share of the industry lead since 2000. 

The “all others” aggregate of smaller online travel sites like Kayak.com gained a point to 79. Travelocity climbed 3 percent to 77 and Orbitz slipped 1 percent to 75. Priceline dropped 4 percent to 73, losing most of what it had gained last year. Even though Priceline has high revenues, it trails other sites when it comes to brand familiarity and loyalty.

For the first time, ForeSee Results applied ACSI methodology to measure customer satisfaction with the online experience of these measured companies when accessed via mobile phone. Aggregate satisfaction for e-commerce mobile commerce scored 75, but the results are not even across the board. Brokerage company mobile commerce Web sites and applications scored significantly better at 81.  The retail and travel sectors of e-commerce scored 75.

“Mobile commerce is still emerging and presents a tremendous opportunity for growth,” said Freed. “It is the wild west in terms of mobile apps, and companies can really begin to distinguish themselves if they pay close and careful attention to their customers needs and expectations on the mobile channel.” 

A free report with historical scores for all of the e-commerce companies measured by the ACSI is available at www.ForeSeeResults.com.

Other e-retail scores included Newegg at 84 and Overstock.com at 83. Other e-brokerage scores included TD Ameritrade at 77.

The ACSI is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. ACSI releases results for various sectors of the economy on a monthly basis to provide up-to-the-moment coverage over the entire calendar year. The national index is updated quarterly and factors in scores from more than 225 companies in 45 industries and from government agencies over the previous four quarters.  The Index was founded at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and is produced by ACSI LLC. ACSI can be found on the Web at www.theacsi.org.

Overall customer satisfaction in all industries dropped 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter to 75.3.

“Even though the economic recovery has gained a bit more momentum as of late, it remains sluggish,” Fornell said. “With low job creation and deteriorating customer satisfaction, as tracked by the ACSI, the uncertainty of what will happen to consumer demand is not going away.”

While the slide in customer satisfaction is not encouraging for consumer demand or for employment, the overall numbers don’t tell the whole story and things may not be quite as serious as the aggregate suggests.  Most of the ACSI decline was due to a plunge in satisfaction with government services, as reported in the January 2011 ACSI release, and a sharp decline for gasoline.  The latter was caused by rising oil prices, which do have a dampening effect on consumer demand and economic growth, but slumping satisfaction with government has much less of an impact on the economy.

Customer satisfaction with the retail sector fell 1.6 percent to 75.0, mostly due to a big drop for gasoline service stations, which plummeted 7.9 percent to 70 in the wake of a 20 percent rise in gas prices over the past year. Results for other retail industries are mixed — higher prices on food and other items dampened satisfaction with supermarkets (down 1.3 percent to 75) and health and personal care stores (down 1.3 percent to 77), while continued aggressive discounting keeps department and discount stores and specialty retailers trending upward for a third straight year. Both industries improved by 1.3 percent to 76 and 78, respectively.

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