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STELLAService has learned that much of the delight in customer service is in the details. For instance, we measure not only if a retailer ships items with a pre-paid return slip, but also if that slip is adhesive. We can tell you if a store has a live representative available at 2 a.m. and if they can ship overnight. We can tell consumers who delivers the fastest and who keeps customers on hold the longest.
Of course, some retailers are better than others and even top performers have hiccups in certain categories. But, we wanted to look at the overall experience.
So, STELLAService measured the entire process during the holiday period – from call, email and live chat support to product delivery, returns and refund processing. Of the 25 largest online retailers, there were five standout companies that scored consistently in the top five of several of our measured categories.
We suggest you bookmark this page for next year’s holiday shopping.
The overall top performers were: Avon, Gap, L.L. Bean, Victoria’s Secret and Zappos.com.
Now, let’s look at some of the top performers by category.
We called the top online retailers once a day from November 1 through December 30 – excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – and measured the total time it takes to reach an agent from the end of dialing to answer. The average time was 2:36, several multiples of what the top performer proved can be achieved. If you were reaching out to LLBean.com to check the order status of that sweater for dad, you received the speediest call support, with average time to reach an agent clocking in at 39 seconds. JCPenny.com, however, was the worst rated, with an average response time of 6:58.
But, as part of the overall phone performance evaluations, STELLAService measured whether representatives were engaged, interested, respectful and courteous. We also rated the overall tone of the CSR.
Retailers with high overall marks for phone support included: Store.Apple.com, LLBean.com, Nordstrom.com, Overstock.com and Zappos.com.
Room for improvement – Buy.com was the lowest performing retailer in overall phone support, showing a need for better product knowledge and a more friendly tone from their customer service representatives.
We sent 56 emails to each retailer over the course of the study. Email measurements included average email response time, as well as response time within 24 hours. LLBean.com again proved they are eager to connect with customers as they had the fastest average response time at 46 minutes, outperforming next best Amazon.com by nearly an hour and a half. JCPenny.com struggled with an average response time of more than 48 hours, responding within 24 hours just 20% of the time.
For email support, STELLAService rated CSRs on how well they answered a question, if their replies were personalized and expressing empathy, as well as how professionally the note was written.
Retailers with high overall marks for email support included: Shop.avon.com, Gap.com, ToysRUS.com, VictoriasSecret.com and Zappos.com.
Room for improvement – BestBuy.com, which struggled filling online orders during the holiday shopping season also struggled to reply to our analysts’ emails.
Live chat proved to be a speedy way for holiday shoppers to connect with retailers, however adoption of the communication method is still nascent. Just 15 of the top retailers offered live chat support during the study period, but it proved effective. The average wait time for an agent to answer a request for a chat was 1:26. Also, there were some big retail names that didn’t take advantage of live chat during the holidays.
Among the measurements for live chat, STELLAService analysts measured how well a CSR answered a question, how knowledgeable they were about products and how responsive they were throughout the session.
Retailers with high overall marks for chat support included: Store.Apple.com, Shop.avon.com, Gap.com, VictoriasSecret.com and Zappos.com.
Retailers that did not offer chat during our holiday study included: BestBuy.com, JCPenney.com, Kohls.com, Macys.com, QVC.com, Sonystyle.com, Target.com, ToysRUs.com,Walmart.com and Williams-Sonoma.com
During the time sensitive holiday gift season, delivery speed is paramount. We looked at the average number of total days and the average number of business days from order date to delivery.
Zappos.com was the best performer, averaging 2.7 total days and 2 business days for delivery. Kohls.com struggled, taking 10.3 total days and 7.3 business days on average.
STELLAService analysts also considered helpful service measures for delivery such as return instructions, packing slips and accuracy of the order.
Retailers with high overall marks for delivery included: Shop.avon.com, Gap.com, LLBean.com, QVC.com and Williams-Sonoma.com.
Room for improvement – Sonystyle.com shipped items to our analysts with a poor package fit and packing slips with less than adequate information.
Online shopping is still tricky when it comes to finding the perfect color, fit, brand, model or other variation and sometimes an item needs to go back to the store. For all the conveniences that online shopping provides, the returns process is often the most frustrating.
As part of the overall returns evaluations, STELLAService analysts looked for a prepaid label with an adhesive back and whether the company required authorization from the company to return the product, among other considerations.
Retailers with high overall marks for delivery included: HSN.com, LLBean.com, Macys.com, Nordstrom.com and VictoriasSecret.com.
Room for improvement – Dell.com and Target.com were at the back of the pack for returns. Dell.com failed to provide a return address for half the measured orders, while Target.com had issues with its returns automation system.
Finally, we looked at the average total business days to receive a refund. The biggest shopping season of the year isn’t final until consumers are either showing off their holiday haul or paid in full upon a product return.
No one wants their hard earned money held prisoner to a slow refund process.
As part of the overall refund evaluations, STELLAService analysts rated retailers on metrics including whether a return notification email was received acknowledging a return or refund status and if the refund was processed within 21 calendar days.
Here are the top performing retailers in terms of overall days from return to refund:
HSN.com – 3.5 days
Store.Apple.com – 3.7 days
Amazon.com – 4.2 days
HPShopping.com 4.3 days
Newegg.com- 4.7 days
It’s important to note that refunds can be delayed because of slow delivery service. Taking this into account, we also measured the average number of total days and average number of business days from warehouse arrival date to refund date.
Here are the top performing retailers in terms of days from warehouse arrival to refund:
Amazon.com – 1.2 days
Overstock.com – 1.2 days
HSN.com – 1.5 days
Store.Apple.com – 1.5 days
Nordstrom.com – 2 days
After all the anticipation and waiting, you’ve finally opened your holiday gift and…of course, it’s not the right [size/color/fit/brand/model/age-group/etc]. Like many of us, you’re now faced with the ultimate question: what to do about returns, exchanges or refunds.
Since we at STELLAService knew you’d ask, we went ahead and road-tested the top 25 largest online retailers to see which ones have the most customer-friendly returns and refund processes (we tested the same 25 retailers that we evaluated in the 2011 Cyber Monday Customer Service Study).
As part of this assessment, we ordered and returned (via USPS standard ground) several products from each retailer to various parts of the country over the last few weeks (understanding it may be even tougher during the days and weeks after Christmas). Your return and refund experience, as well as the policies you’re up against, will vary depending on where and when the gifter ordered your present.
Several top retailers extended their normal return windows to account for the large number of people who will need to initiate returns or refunds over the next few weeks. If retailers can extend their policies during the holidays, can’t they just leave them extended during the rest of the year?
It’s also worth noting the varying refund processing times. While retailers often blame banks for slow refunds, our data suggests that the companies’ return processing cycle (i.e. the time to process a return and initiate a refund after the returned product reaches their warehouse) has a lot to do with how quick the retailers are in getting you your money back. As usual, some companies go out of their way to make life easier and better for their customers, and some don’t.
Are you wondering how the top online retailers rank after taking into account all of the major customer service metrics during the holidays? So are we…stay tuned!
When it comes to the holidays, surprises should be left to the gifts, not the delivery speed of products you order online. That’s why we tested the top 25 Internet Retailers for standard delivery speed. These are the same 25 retailers that we studied in the 2011 Cyber Monday Customer Service Study.
We ordered several products from each of the top retailers via standard shipping to various parts of the country over the last few weeks to test how long it took for the items to arrive.
Who was the fastest, and who was the slowest?
Some key highlights from the study include:
Does the speed of delivery depend on what part of the country you’re in?
Turns out that the average delivery speed for standard shipping is slightly faster for those of you on the east coast (another east coast bias?).
Wishing everyone a no-surprises, hassle-free, speedy standard shipping holiday!
Note: this is the third in a three part series looking at the customer service performance of the top 25 online retailers during the 2011 Black Friday through Cyber Monday weekend. View Part 1 (Phone Support) and Part 2 (Email Support) for a complete view on how the largest online retailers cared for customers during the big shopping holiday.
Many online shoppers now prefer to engage with companies via live chat. It’s (supposedly) quick, easy and convenient. According to a 1,000 person consumer survey by the E-Tailing Group and Bold Software, one in five online shoppers select live chat as their preferred method of communication with a retailer. With 20% of shoppers preferring to use live chat, you’d think that most – if not all – of the largest online retailers offer this as a communication channel for shoppers.
We were curious to see which of the 25 largest online retailers offer this service channel, and here’s what we found:
First, it’s amazing how many of these retailers (44%) don’t offer the “preferred method” of customer support to 20% of online shoppers. Second, if you visit some of the retailers’ sites who are noted above as having live chat and don’t see a link for chat, the site is probably waiting for you to take some kind of action to trigger the live chat functionality. This kind of “dynamic” live chat functionality does not help the one-in-five online shoppers who prefer live chat, since they may not take the necessary actions on the website to generate the live chat window and thus will not be able to initiate a live chat when they want.
In addition, for the sites offering live chat we stress-tested how long it took for online shoppers to: (1) receive a notification that a live agent was present and ready to assist; and (2) receive an answer to the question we asked each live chat agent.
We found that the mass merchants performed the best in this study, and below are the top three performers and their results:
With so may products and varying shipping, returns and other policies, it is appropriate that some of these very large online retailers are delivering such a highly responsive and helpful live chat service.
Do you think it should be standard for all of the top online merchants to offer live chat?
Did you leverage live chat with any of the top 25 retailers this weekend? If so, what was your experience like?
Methodology: Black Friday through Cyber Monday data was collected by initiating a live chat with each retailer five (5) times each day over a four day period, from Friday November 25th to Monday November 28th. Live chat sessions were initiated at random during the following time-blocks to generate measurements of service performance that have high reliability and construct validity: 8:00 -11:30am EST; 11:30 – 2:00pm EST; 2:00 – 5:00pm EST; 5:00 – 8:00pm EST; 8:00 – 11:00pm EST. Given the dynamic nature of live chat (i.e. it only becomes available when certain actions are taken by the user), we followed a consistent process by visiting the same number of pages, and staying on each website for the same amount of time, for each of the 25 retailers.
Note: this is the second in a three part series looking at the customer service performance of the top 25 online retailers during the 2011 Black Friday through Cyber Monday weekend. View Part 1 (Phone Support) and Part 3 (Live Chat Support) for a complete view on how the largest online retailers cared for customers during the big shopping holiday.
According to Forrester, 55% of online shoppers use email when attempting to solve a customer service problem. Most consumers expect relatively quick responses to email inquiries. In fact, if you’re shopping online and have a question, what’s the point of sending an email if the company doesn’t get back to you for days? The product, special deal or issue in question may no longer be relevant by the time you get a reply.
To give shoppers a better idea of which stores plan to keep you in the loop and which stores are likely to dismiss your message into the email abyss as you do your online holiday shopping, STELLAService is providing an unprecedented look at the email response rates of the largest online retailers.
While it might seem obvious that retailers would (or should) reply to all emails sent to them by shoppers with questions, it’s far from reality!
These numbers are most likely eye-opening for many people, but they probably resonate when you think back to prior experiences. Did you email any of the large online retailers over the weekend? If so, did they get back to you within a day?
Methodology: Baseline data was collected by emailing each retailer each day (336 total emails) over a 14 day period, from November 1st through November 14th, asking general customer service questions in each email (product questions, shipping or returns information, etc). Black Friday through Sunday data was collected by emailing each retailer four (4) times each day over a three day period, from Friday November 25th to Sunday November 27th. Emails were placed at random during the following time-blocks to generate measurements of service performance that have high reliability and construct validity: 8:00 -11:30am EST; 11:30 – 2:00pm EST; 2:00 – 5:00pm EST; 5:00 – 8:00pm EST; 8:00 – 11:00pm EST.
Note: this is the first in a three part series looking at the customer service performance of the top 25 online retailers during the 2011 Black Friday through Cyber Monday weekend. View Part 2 (Email Support) and Part 3 (Live Chat Support) for a complete view on how the largest online retailers cared for customers during the big shopping holiday.
Despite the many ways consumers can connect with a company for customer service, the telephone is still the most widely used customer service channel for online shoppers. According to Forrester, 69% of online consumers use the phone when seeking customer service help (followed by 55% who use email).
As a result, we think online shoppers should be especially aware of the findings from our 2011 Cyber Monday Customer Service study. For the first time, STELLAService is providing an unprecedented inside look at which stores provide joyful customer service during the holidays, and which stores are likely to deliver a full-serving of slow, frustrating support as you do your online holiday shopping.
We found some of the numbers especially interesting:
Did you place calls to any of these retailers over the weekend? If so, what was your experience like?
Methodology: Baseline data was collected by calling each retailer each day (350 total calls) over a 14 day period, from November 1st through November 14th, asking general customer service questions on each call (product questions, shipping or returns information, etc). Black Friday through Cyber Monday data was collected by calling each retailer five (5) times each day over a four day period, from November 25th to November 28th. Calls were placed at random during the following time-blocks to generate measurements of service performance that have high reliability and construct validity: 8:00 -11:30am EST; 11:30 – 2:00pm EST; 2:00 – 5:00pm EST; 5:00 – 8:00pm EST; 8:00 – 11:00pm EST.
Traveling during Thanksgiving is stressful enough, so there’s nothing worse than the added frustration of a bad customer service experience on your flight out of town. To give you a glimpse at which airlines are going the extra mile to make things smoother and faster for travelers this week, we decided to stress test each carrier’s call support…and we found some surprising results!
STELLAService evaluated the 13 largest airlines (as reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation) to uncover which were the quickest at answering customer concerns over the phone ahead of the big travel weekend.
While most of the airlines seem well-prepared to handle the holiday rush, the surprise from our study was obviously Virgin America, with an average wait of over 24 minutes to reach a live representative. This figure is also understated since we capped the maximum hold time at 30 minutes, and most of the Virgin America calls hit that threshold.
The obvious question is this: why would Virgin America transition its sales and customer service platform to a new system so close to one of the busiest travel days of the year? It has created a very unusual sight on Twitter and other social commenting platforms, with travelers complaining about the airline’s service instead of praising it (Virgin America is known for its great service – sometimes even in the same conversation as Zappos!). The Company’s CEO has made a public apology, stating that they’re working to resolve the issues as fast as they can.
Have your weekend travels begun? If you’re flying to your Turkey Day destination, what has the customer service experience been like so far, and which Airline did you fly?
————————————————————————–Methodology details: Through 390 calls to the airlines over a five day period, STELLAService engaged each airline five times per day from November 16th through November 21st, asking general customer service questions on each call (flight status, bag fees, website questions, etc). Calls were placed at random during the following time-blocks to generate measurements of service performance that have high reliability and construct validity: 8:00 -11:30am EST;; 11:30 – 2:00pm EST; 2:00 – 5:00pm EST; 5:00 – 8:00pm EST; 8:00 – 11:00pm EST.
With the holiday shopping season about to kick into high gear on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we have evaluated the Internet’s top 25 retailers to see which ones are going the extra mile to provide shoppers with the best online shopping experience.
Retailers are providing customer service “extras” like free shipping, free gift wrapping, and 24/7 call support. Due to little differentiation among retailers when it comes to pricing and deals, these “extras” are more important than ever in helping shoppers decide where they should spend their hard-earned bucks.
The highlights, by the numbers:
Top holiday retailers included in this analysis
Retailers with free shipping on all orders: Apple.com, BestBuy.com, Dell.com, HPshopping.com, LLBean.com, NewEgg.com, Nordstrom.com, Walmart.com, and Zappos.com
Sites that allow in-store pick up for items purchased online: BestBuy.com, ToysRus.com, Walmart.com, Target.com, Apple.com, LLBean.com, Nordstrom.com, Sears.com, and JCPenney.com
Retailers that provide 24/7 call support: Zappos.com, BestBuy.com, ToysRus.com, VictoriaSecret.com, Williams-Sonoma.com, and JCPenney.com
We’ll be updating our guides throughout the holiday season so be sure check back in to see which retailers are going the “Extra Mile.” Happy holiday shopping!