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PLAUT e-Returns Study Says U.K. E-Commerce Is Flawed

[London, ENGLAND] Business and technology consultancy PLAUT says in a report published Thursday that online retailers in the U.K. have such deeply flawed after-sales services that they could make Christmas miserable for their shoppers.

Buyer beware? Very much so, says the PLAUT e-Returns Study, which examined 25 major e-commerce sites and found "serious problems" in the cancellations and returns process of nearly three-quarters of them.

Just 15 percent of e-commerce companies operating in the U.K. are providing a level of service equivalent to that found in shops on the High Street.

So what's going wrong? Nearly everything, according to PLAUT. Customers are being charged for goods they have cancelled; their online orders are being lost; their returned goods are being refused; they are put on hold for periods of up to 90 minutes if they phone; and retailers are keeping the Value Added Tax (VAT) on those occasions when the cost of goods is refunded.

Karl Thurston, managing director, PLAUT UK, said the study showed that many e-commerce sites are merely "paying lip service to customer service."

"Service this poor wouldn't be tolerated on the High Street, and must be putting people off shopping online," said Thurston.

PLAUT list no less than 13 major problems -- a list long enough to give even the most confident online retailer cause for concern.

Among the problems are missing items from orders, financial errors in the returns process, tracking numbers not matching online and off, and buggy sites that fail to behave correctly across all browsers.

Some of the faults seem to be fairly easy to correct, if only the retailers put more effort into their sites. For example, many fail to display a customer returns policy -- a task that requires just a page of text.

Thurston points out that businesses which operate entirely on the Web will fail if they are not customer-centric, while traditional High Street retailers are likely to damage their whole business if they give poor service online.

"There is a real danger that poor online customer care will lead to a miserable Christmas for consumers and ultimately for retailers as well," warned Thurston.

With 7 million people expected to shop online in the U.K. this Christmas, spending around US $185 each (according to MORI), serious damage could be caused to the industry if many of them are disappointed.

PLAUT is not afraid to name names, placing e-commerce firms into "Very Poor," "Poor," "Average," "Good," and "Excellent" categories.

Dixons, the company that gave birth to Freeserve, appears in the "Very Poor" category for its tendency to deliver cancelled goods.

Appliance Direct, Bigsave.com, Country Bookshop, Marks and Spencer, and Virgin Wines are among the very few companies that make it to the "Excellent" category for a flawless purchase, delivery and returns process.



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