Study: eBay, Amazon see declining customer satisfaction marks

E-commerce giants Amazon.com and eBay saw their usually high scores in customer satisfaction fall off after a shift in business strategy, according to a recent report.

While e-commerce heavyweights eBay and Amazon.com are still receiving high marks in customer satisfaction, they're

not what they once were.

In fact, customer satisfaction scores for e-retail dropped 4.8% in the past year, according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index. It was the first decline since the category was introduced in 2000.

ForeSee Results, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based customer satisfaction management company, and the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index published the annual report. The e-retail decline is due largely to significant drop-offs from Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. and San Jose, Calif.-based eBay Inc., which have both recently changed their business model, said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results.

"Amazon.com has changed a lot over the last couple of years," Freed said. "Roll the clock back and they sold CDs, books and videos. Now, I can buy anything from TVs to a shirt to a toy. The good news is I have all these options. The bad news is I have all these options."

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All those options can be confusing for customers. Amazon.com is also selling merchandise for other companies on its site, further complicating the online buying process, Freed said. For example, a customer can go to the site to buy a television and find the same set from multiple suppliers. An Amazon.com television may come from Target. The customer also has the option of having it shipped or picked up at several locations. All of which can affect customers' satisfaction based on their view of service and support, Freed said. A book, after all, requires far less customer support than a television.

Similarly, eBay has shifted from a community of individual buyers and sellers into more of an aggregator of small businesses, Freed said.

Yet, both Amazon.com and eBay still outscore traditional retailers by a significant margin and have a history of strong customer satisfaction. While customer satisfaction can be tied directly to financial success, those effects are not always immediate. Thus, the two companies are trying to capitalize on their history of strong customer satisfaction as they change their business model and grow.

"It's remarkable that Amazon and eBay have had such a great run over the years," Freed said. "Now they're trying to take advantage of that. There's a satisfaction inflection point where if they stay above it, they'll be okay in terms of revenue."

However, the changes have opened the door to competition, Freed said. For example, barnesandnoble.com maintained its focus on books and music and ranked highest in the e-retail category this year.

E-commerce companies also face the fight of evolving expectations. Customers' expectations of their e-commerce company have changed significantly in the past two years, Freed said. With a brick-and-mortar experience, those expectations are roughly the same.

E-commerce still fared well in the annual study, however. With an aggregate customer satisfaction score of 80 out of 100, e-retail still scored higher than offline retail at 72.6, down 3.2% from the year before. Among other online categories, online travel scored a 76, online auctions a 77 and online brokerage a 75.

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