RealTime IT News

How to Succeed in E-Tail? Just Get It Right

A new study of online catalog merchants during the holiday-shopping season indicates that retail sites designed to offer ease of shopping, ease of ordering, ease of order tracking and superior customer service are the winners for both the short and long term.

This perhaps is not stunning news, but it does serve as a reminder to "check your basics."

The survey by the CFT Retail|solutions unit of AnswerThink was aimed at determining how Web catalog retailers maintained functional and "customer-centric" sites during the busiest shopping time of the year.

"First impressions are crucial to successful Internet commerce," said Frank Andryauskas, retail e-commerce practice director at AnswerThink.

"Online consumers are typically getting on the Web in the first place because they want to avoid the crowds and long waits that are associated with retail shopping during the holidays. If they can't get the product information they are seeking quickly and easily, they are simply going to surf to another site, never returning to the first."

The research on more than 75 catalog company Web sites found that the top-performing sites offer "best-practice" solutions including customer personalization, order history and tracking, gift certificates and gift registry capabilities, advanced searching, the option to enter product numbers directly from a catalog, address books and confirmation e-mails.

The survey also found that while Internet vendors do provide a convenient service, the majority still have a long way to go before being considered a world-class operation.

For instance, only eight percent of the surveyed companies offered time-saving address books to customers who planned on shipping products at various times to the same location. And only 22 percent of the sites kept customer profiles that allowed visitors to come back later and directly log in, with more than three-quarters of users being forced to re-enter credit card and other personal information.

The holiday rush exposed another weakness of online merchants -- the inability to deliver quickly. Only one-third of the Web sites surveyed were still offering merchandise for Christmas delivery after Dec. 19 and, of those that did, only a quarter actually delivered by Christmas day.

AnswerThink, recently merged with THINK New Ideas, helps design, build, market and support e-business efforts and has expertise in brand and product development, business strategy, e-commerce, supply chain, sales and marketing, customer relationship management, finance, human resources and information technology.