Corporations Still Not Cutting Web Pie

The Web sites of too many Fortune 100 companies in the United States don’t take
customers seriously, an upcoming report by research and consulting firm The
Customer Respect Group concludes.

The 2004 Online Customer Respect Study, which will be published Monday,
shows that while companies like Microsoft (No. 1) and Hewlett-Packard (No.
2) performed very well across the board, most had inadequate privacy,
operational or security measures in place to reassure customers.

The study evaluates the top 100 U.S. companies in six categories —
simplicity, responsiveness, transparency, principles, attitude and privacy
— and elicits end-user feedback on their experiences of visits to the Web
sites. Grading is done on a 0 (worst) to 10 (best) scale.

Roger Fairchild, president of the Bellevue, Wash.-based consulting firm,
said he finds it amazing that after three years of publishing report
results, companies still don’t take their online sites seriously.

“Companies need to realize that the current statistic is 10.6 percent of all
transactions in the U.S. are initiated with a visit to a Web site,” he said.

He pointed out potential customers are visiting company Web sites to
research a product they are looking to buy, whether it’s a book or car, adding that, if
they can’t get the information they want from the Web site, customers will
look elsewhere.

According to polling conducted for the study, 64 percent
said they would visit a competitor’s Web site if they couldn’t get the
information they wanted from their first choice or were put off by a Web
site’s unclear data-mining practices.

“And unlike in a brick-and-mortar environment, I don’t have to get in my car
and drive across town for 20 minutes and go to the competitor’s place of
business. I simply have to make a click,” Fairchild said.

The common perception might be that Fortune 100 companies are made up of the
most established brick-and-mortar companies in the United States, who, therefore, have little
understanding of the complexities of the Web and haven’t devoted
much energy to the relatively new Internet technology.

That is not true to an extent.
While companies like Weyerhaeuser Company (No. 98)
and SuperValu Inc. (No. 100) fared poorly online, other, similarly established, bricks-and-mortar
joints like Albertson’s
(No. 7) and The Home Depot, Inc. (No. 15), received good grades for their Web

What’s surprising is the number of high-tech companies whose Web sites are
sub-par, according to the report’s findings. For example, Dell Computer
Corp. (No. 36), the company that became highly successful over its online PC
sales component, snared a meager 3.3 rating in responsiveness, or the time
it takes to get back to a customer.

Cable carrier TimeWarner (No. 82) had
an abysmal 0.0 rating in responsiveness, while telephone companies SBC
Communications (No. 66) and BellSouth Corp. (No. 73) had responsiveness
scores of 2.9 and 3.6, respectively.

“Even after three years of reporting on this, we’re still finding that a
third of Fortune 100 companies aren’t responding to all Web inquiries,
which is amazing to me — That you can make the investment
and understand the significance of the Internet and how people use it, and a
third still don’t respond to inquiries for general information or
product-specific information,” Fairchild said.

Overall, the study found that 12 percent of the Fortune 100 companies don’t
respond to any of their inquiries, while another 21 percent responded to
half the inquiries.

The study isn’t completely negative. Sixty-seven percent of the
companies do respond, taking anywhere from one hour to four days to respond,
though only 31 of that 67 percent include an auto-response e-mail to explain
how the customer will be waiting.

In the area of security, The Customer Respect Group survey found 44 percent of the
surveyed companies don’t use SSL to protect documents. A
little more than a quarter of them, however, always use the encryption

Of the 100 Web sites, 93 percent have a privacy policy in place. While only
30 percent only use the data for internal marketing, a whopping 58 percent
of them share the data with affiliates, business partners or subsidiaries.
Cookies used to gather personal information is found on 93
percent of the Web sites, but only 11 percent of them explain how to disable
the feature.

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