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Portals' E-commerce Efforts Receive Poor Ratings

Cluttered sites, distracting banner ads, inadequate search features and confusing privacy policies jaded the shopping experience at several leading Internet portals, according to a study conducted by Consumer Reports Online.

The study evaluated eight top community sites: AltaVista, Shop@AOL, Bolt, Excite@Home's Shopping, Lycos.com, MSN.com, women.com and Yahoo Shopping. The reviewers inspected the portals' policies, usability and content.

The sites did not receive excessively high scores, which had a maximum rating of 5, according to Helen Popkins, associate Web editor, consumerreports.org.

"We were surprised that the evaluations of these sites were generally in the middle of our scale, and sometimes below that," Popkins said. "The well-known portal and community sites were rated have so much experience online. It is disappointing that they are only good and haven't done a better job at making their sites exemplary and models for newer, less experienced Internet merchants."

Yahoo!Shopping earned first place with an overall rating of four. According to the study, the portal's Buyer Protection Program helps to ensure shopper satisfaction. The site was also recognized for well-organized browsing, housing a wide range of categories and offering very good privacy policy.

"The Yahoo site scored higher because it has bio protection program that ensures shopper satisfaction, which made it stand out," said Popkins. "The site is very well organized, it has a higher range of categories and selection, so consumers are more likely to find what they are looking for and it is organized so that consumers have an easy job of finding things."

Other findings were as follows:

  • Alta Vista was found to offer a large range of product categories, many big-name retailers, and well organized browsing. The overall rating was 3.
  • Shop@AOL was rated as having a clear list of its merchants with links to their policies and FAQs. The customer-service contacts was noted as a nice feature. However, browsing and searching capabilities were not very flexible. The overall rating was 3.
  • Bolt was found to have a confusing privacy policy and no search features at all. Compared to other sites in the teen and young adult category, the product selection and number of merchants was found to be limited. The overall rating was 2.
  • Excite@Home'sShopping had a large number of products, which could cause extra digging for shoppers looking for a specific product. However, the site was rated as being easy to navigate and merchant reviews enhance the shopping experience. The overall rating was 3.
  • Lycos.com was reported to feature a wide range of product categories and big-name retailers. The site was found to be easy to navigate and a clear-cut design, which makes for a satisfying shopping experience. The overall rating was 3.
  • MSN.com was found to have a cluttered design, but the main categories are reported to be well organized and easy to navigate. Some product categories offer a side-by-side comparison feature, which pleased reviewers. The overall rating was 3.
  • Women.com reviews found browsing to be confusing and the lack of a search feature made shopping tedious. The overall rating was 3.

The research was conducted by consumerreports.org's e-Ratings service, which aims to help consumers navigate the Web marketplace efficiently, effectively, and with confidence.

Ratings are based on a systematic review of selected features against specified criteria, using Consumer Reports methodology. Consumer Reports Online is the Web site of Consumers Union, an independent, nonprofit testing and information-gathering organization.