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As a result of evaluating the service of thousands of online retailers – some of them with “unfriendly” return policies – we were unfortunately left with hundreds of random products at the end of 2011.
As opposed to auctioning off these products on eBay or otherwise disposing of them, we decided to turn the negative situation into a positive one by giving away the items to those in need. Check it out!
Happy holidays from all of us at STELLAService!
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.
In case you missed the announcement last week, I’m happy to share the news that STELLAService has raised an additional $5 million in funding to keep you in the know when it comes to companies with great (and not so great) customer service.
The funding was co-led by Battery Ventures and DFJ Gotham Ventures and also included RRE Ventures, Forerunner Ventures, and angels Jay Weintraub and Will Thomas. We’re thrilled to have such a terrific, top-tier group of investors behind us.
It’s been an amazing eight months since we announced our first round of funding. Our team has worked around the clock to produce customer service ratings and data on thousands of companies, and we hope you’ve been able to benefit from the guidance and direction our customer service analysts (i.e. “mystery shoppers on steroids”) have allowed us to provide. Our data and insights have been featured in nearly every major media outlet, from Forbes to NBC, in an effort to get the message out around the service performance of America’s leading companies – we believe every online consumer will benefit as a result.
Meanwhile, the most customer-focused businesses are proudly displaying the STELLAService seal, which has rapidly become the Web’s most trusted signal of sites with great service. From larger businesses like 1800Contacts to smaller, up-and-coming stores like Stock ‘N Go, companies are deriving significant value in displaying the seal as it remains the only objective, meaningful signal that separates their businesses from the herd of competitors who don’t go the extra mile for customers (it should be noted that more than half of the retailers we evaluate do not make the cut to display this award).
We’re only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the information and data we plan to make available on the service quality of each company. This new round of funding will help us accelerate the launch of some exciting new features and products that will give you an even closer, more detailed view of the service performance of each business. Stay tuned on our blog, Twitter and Facebook page for the latest.
Everything we do at STELLA is based around our mission to create a world with better customer service. It’s a simple mission, as good customer service is something all of us need and deserve. I’m proud to be working with such an awesome team, and none of us could be more excited to continue full-steam-ahead on this enormous opportunity.
Onward and upward!
Watching out for consumers, Asa asks STELLAService about buying a Halloween costume online and how to identify the best sites when it comes to customer service.
Check out our previous post if you’re still in the market for a Halloween costume and don’t have time to get to a store…just a couple days left, so make sure you purchase from the best!
For all of the simple and elegant ways Apple makes our lives easier as consumers, the world’s largest tech company seems to be going out of its way to confuse shoppers when it comes to buying an iPhone online.
There are currently numerous online retailers that sell the original iPhone 4 (or at least it looked that way at first glance). With the iPhone 4S going on sale this Friday (and pre-orders already breaking records), we wanted to find out firsthand which retailers serve as the best destination for purchasing an iPhone over the Web.
Given Apple’s recent crack-down on brick-and-mortar stores not officially authorized to sell Apple products, as well as reports of fake iPhones hitting the online market, we think it’s even more important to provide consumers with better guidance on this critical buying decision.
Surprisingly, the root of the confusion around buying an iPhone online lies with Apple. The company makes it abundantly clear which online retailers are “Authorized Resellers” for Apple’s most popular items, such as the iPod and iPad, but there is somehow one product category conspicuously missing from the Authorized Reseller chart: iPhone.
First, we evaluated Apple’s Authorized Resellers list (shown above). None of the Authorized Resellers actually sell the iPhone 4 over the Web (we define “selling over the Web” as being able to purchase the phone and having it shipped to you). At first glance, it looked like Amazon.com, Target.com and Frys.com sold the iPhone, but a deeper dive into each site confirmed that they do not.
Amazon.com: iPhone’s are only sold through marketplace sellers, not Amazon.com.
Frys.com: iPhone’s are only sold through physical store locations, not via the Internet.
Next, we checked stores from the Internet Retailer’s Top 100 list that appeared to sell iPhones but were not listed on Apple’s Authorized Reseller list. We uncovered seven additional online stores that initially seemed to sell iPhones, but further investigation highlighted wrinkles with each site.
Newegg.com: sells a limited selection of “no contract” phones.
Etronics.com: sells a limited selection of “no contract” iPhone 3G’s (yet all are out of stock).
Walmart.com: iPhone’s are only sold through physical store locations, not via the Internet.
Sears.com: iPhone’s are only sold through marketplace sellers.
O.co (AKA Overstock.com): sells a limited number of “no-contract” iPhone 3Gs (refurbished)
BestBuy.com: a genuine online reseller of the iPhone…? Not so fast – see below.
Finally, we looked at BestBuy.com, which claims to be an Authorized Reseller of Apple products.
This is where things really get confusing.
Despite a clear message on BestBuy.com that the iPhone 4 (and iPhone 4S) are available for sale through the site as an “Authorized Reseller” of Apple products, Apple’s site does not recognize BestBuy.com as an Authorized Reseller. You could argue that Best Buy is a big enough brand that it does not require cross-referencing on Apple’s site, but if that’s the case, why is Amazon.com, the world’s largest Internet retailer, listed on Apple’s site?
Making matters more complex, not all iPhones 4 models are available for purchase (with shipping and delivery) through BestBuy.com. Can you have it shipped (free shipping), or do you have to pick it up in-store (IN STORE ONLY)?
Online shoppers wishing to purchase any AT&T iPhone will find a disappointing message when they reach the end of their checkout process (see below).
Policies, offerings and reseller arrangements seem to be changing by the hour as the release of the iPhone 4S approaches. With so many online retailers quasi-selling the iPhone (or reselling it through a marketplace seller), it’s no wonder consumers are confused, and in some cases getting scammed as they look to the Web to get their hands on a new iPhone.
Consumers are left with three big and obvious questions:
Ultimately, it appears the only online retailers truly “authorized” to sell iPhones through their sites are: Apple.com, BestBuy.com (sort-of), Att.com, Verizon.com and Sprint.com.
Now that we know (or at least we think we know as of 10/11) who the authorized iPhone sellers are online, we’ve decided to rigorously evaluate each site to uncover which online business is the most customer-friendly. STELLAService assessed each site’s policies, features and quality of live customer support to help consumers make a more informed online buying decision. With pricing for the new iPhone standardized across all retailers, the overall customer experience should be the deciding factor in choosing where to buy your iPhone.
Stay tuned, as we plan to share the full results of our study tomorrow!
If you’re a subscriber of this blog then you know by now – we are firm believers that price and product selection are converging for many online categories, and as a result the best way for an online business to differentiate is to provide an outstanding customer experience.
With the recent news that Dollar General is launching an ecommerce site, we’re obviously curious about the kind of customer service policies and practices we should expect from the discount retailer’s new online store. After all, it’s hard to find a better example of price convergence than the “dollar-store” category.
For starters, let’s look at one of Dollar General’s main competitors, Dollar Tree. While Dollar Tree offers 24/7 call support and free shipping for orders sent to a local Dollar Tree store, it doesn’t allow for returns (all sales are final).
Adding to our intrigue about Dollar General’s future online service is that it plans to outsource the majority of its operations – including its customer service – to GSI Commerce, a solution provider that helps create, develop and run online shopping sites for numerous brands and retailers. According to the InternetRetailer article about the new site, Dollar General’s online store will not launch with the same in-store pick up option that Dollar Tree provides. Let’s hope this is not one of many services left off the new Dollar General site.
If we may be so bold as to place some requests, it would be great to see the new Dollar General site offer:
What do you think? Can a company offering such low-priced items be successful in the ecommerce game? Will it be able to compete on the ultimate differentiator, customer service?
We will find out soon enough, as the site is planned to launch September 8th. Stay tuned!
If only he shopped online… more specifically on sites with the STELLAService Seal of customer service excellence.
What’s the furthest you’ve gone to purchase a product? Or better yet, what’s the easiest purchase you’ve made online thanks to outstanding customer service?
For a brief window on Sunday July 15th, Sears.com had set its pricing on the iPad 2 at $69. For those not in the market, that’s nearly a $700 discount off the standard $744.99 price. Like many internet trends, this discount was scintillating and ephemeral. As friends told friends and so on and so forth, the haphazard pricing mistake quickly made its way through Twitter and Facebook feeds alike. Once an alarming number of shoppers snatched up iPads at a discount deeper than Barry White’s baritone, Sears.com finally took notice. As a result, they’ve cancelled all orders made at the aforementioned discount and issued a statement to shoppers:
“We want you to know that, unfortunately, today one of the Marketplace third party sellers told us that they mistakenly posted incorrect pricing information on two Apple iPad models on the Marketplace portion of the website. If you purchased either of these products recently, your order has been cancelled and your account will be credited…”
When companies first began selling their products on the web, customer service and e-commerce were almost totally incompatible. Retailers competed over prices and selection, but excellent customer service was the selling point of non-Internet vendors. Physical retailers, the conventional wisdom dictated, were better suited to handle patrons’ complaints, questions, and returns.
Flash forward fifteen years or so and the ballgame is changing once again. No longer are companies striving to best each other in choice or cost – those factors are practically the same across the web. Instead, internet retailers are competing more and more for superior customer service. A recent study from the Forrester Group concludes that e-retailers now feel compelled to offer free shipping in order to remain competitive. These companies are coming to realize that free shipping policies are an excellent way to draw business and differentiate themselves. And when companies compete, buyers win. As more businesses adopt customer-friendly policies such as free shipping, their rivals are forced to as well. The customer service competition provides numerous opportunities for consumers to benefit.
Not long ago, online shopping was a trade off between selection and customer service. Now, e-retailers try to outdo each other in friendliness, convenience, and helpfulness. At STELLAService, free shipping is just one of the hundreds of metrics we use to evaluate the extent to which businesses are working for their customers.