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E-tailers turn the microscope on themselves

Barney Beal

E-tailers are their own toughest critics, a study released today says.

In a survey of 368 online retailers conducted by ForeSee Results, a customer satisfaction management company based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the magazine Internet Retailer, retailers barely gave themselves a passing grade when it came to their own online shopping experiences.

When asked to evaluate e-commerce sites, insiders gave themselves a score of 63 out of 100, based on the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index. Consumers give the e-tail industry a score of 83.

"They're an interesting audience because they are the most Internet-savvy crowd around," said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results. "They live, eat and breathe the Net. If nothing changed, this group would be a great foreshadowing of how sites would be viewed in the future by consumers."

In this, the second annual survey, scores from market insiders rose from 58 to 63, a change that's on par with the rise in consumers' scores. That, along with an increase in the number of e-commerce sites, suggests that the industry is healthy and growing, Freed said.

Areas that receive a lot of attention from online retailers, such as content, the look and feel of a site, and product information, all ranked as the lowest priorities for customers and have the least impact on satisfaction, according to the survey. More important to users are their image of a company and nuts-and-bolts

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functions like account setup, Freed said. Product ordering and functionality performed the best in the study.

Additionally, online sellers said that, while they feel they should be doing a better job, they don't have the necessary information to respond to customer needs. Only 25% said they were highly satisfied with their current Web analytics software's ability to gauge customer satisfaction, and 44% gave their analytics operations a failing grade.

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