ISSUE 589: New economy- Feb 6 2001

The high-tech office


Christmas proves e-shopping still an unsatisfying trip

Despite the fabled dot-com collapse late in 2000, Christmas came and went online as well as off. And after the smoke cleared, some statistics have started to filter in about the state ofChristmas shopping on the Web -- at least in the U.S. (But we're just one big global economy, right?)

Overall, customers were reported to spend about twice as much online this holiday season as last,though this still added up to a small piece of the total pie.

Some good news, according to Andersen Consulting's E-Fulfillment Study.

More attempted online holiday purchases were successful this time than a year ago: 92 per centcompared to 75 per cent. And, on average, it took less time to make a purchase: nine minutes comparedto 12 minutes.

But some of the figures suggest there's still room for improvement.

Only 47 per cent of sites provided an expected delivery date. While that's up from last year's 40 percent, there's clearly a long way to go.

Far more sites (82 per cent, up from last year's 67 per cent) provided e-mail order confirmation, butfar fewer (26 per cent, up from 21 per cent) bothered to inform customers that their purchase had beenshipped.

All in all, said Jody Dodson of Cpulse, a company that measures customer satisfaction,"online customer satisfaction fell to a new all-time low," with a meager 35 per cent of customerssaying they were happy with the process.

A leading problem is a long and tedious order process, often made worse by slow processing speed. And,in marked contrast to Andersen's statistics, Cpulse reports that nearly three out of every four onlineshopping carts were abandoned during this past holiday season. These were shoppers who had made it allthe way to the checkout with a product in the virtual shopping cart, then gave up without completingthe purchase. And once a customer leaves a shopping site unsatisfied, they are unlikely to come back.They are also likely to spread the word about their bad experience to their friends.


Customers try shopping online because they expect it to be convenient. So far, reality has proven otherwise.

Test it out for yourself, especially if your own business is selling online. How many pages do youhave to plough through to find what you're looking for, and then to complete the purchase. Don't dothis from work. Instead, use a phone line connection from home. Then try to make a second purchase.Did you have to enter all your data yet again?

Dodson suggests that a key area for change is customer support. And while, as we've seen, more remainsto be done with automated support (look at those stats on e-mail confirmations), he suggests thatonline shoppers need more human contact.

Yes, real live people.

Dodson suggests that e-biz Web sites offer toll-free phone support, with the number prominentlydisplayed on the Web pages. Add Internet chat-based support, again using real people. Make itavailable during normal business hours and if possible keep it staffed 24/7. And provide enough staffto keep times on hold to a minimum.

Encourage potential customers to use e-mail as another way to reach support staff, but then make surethat their messages are read and responded to, again by a real person, and again in somethingresembling real time.

The point of all this is to get more of those filled shopping carts to end up as actual purchases,build customer satisfaction and create loyal customers who will come back and buy again -- and telltheir friends.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan