Direct Marketing, Mail Order, and E-commerce News from the National Mail Order Association


The e-tailing group Names Top Performing E-Sites and Key Metrics

"Having just completed the e-tailing group 7th Annual Mystery Shopping Study,
we are pleased to recognize the merchants that excelled at online customer service.

Of the 100 sites shopped throughout the 4th Quarter 2004, these ten met all of the
criteria we established relative to customer service and communication. As the
e-commerce channel reaches a point of maturation, providing best-of-breed customer
service is more critical than ever." Says Lauren Freedman, President, the e-tailing group, inc.

Top Performing B2C Sites for Online Customer Service (in alphabetical order)

Ann Taylor
Coldwater Creek
Lands' End
Neiman Marcus
Restoration Hardware
Tower Records

Methodology and Benchmarking Criteria:

To qualify as "top performing" each of the 100 merchants was ranked using benchmarking
criteria extrapolated directly from results of the survey. The top merchants for online
customer service were revealed via a process whereby sites were systematically eliminated
for not possessing "must have" criteria in the following order of importance:

1. 800 or toll-free telephone number
2. Keyword Search
3. Answer e-mail question within 25 hours, correctly with a specific answer
4. Four or fewer days to receive package
5. Six or fewer clicks to checkout
6. Real time inventory in shopping cart or product page
7. Online shipping status
8. Order confirmation in shopping cart
9. E-mail order confirmation sent w/order number included
10. Recommended products/features in shopping process
11. Display customer service hours

To further cull the list, "bonus points" were added if merchants personalized the salutation
in their email responses.

The Best of the Best

Key Customer Service Metrics:

Following is a summary of key customer service metrics based on all 100 sites
shopped during this 7th annual Mystery Shopping Survey. Ms. Freedman summarized,
"Overall, merchants are more consistently fulfilling today's multi-channel customers'
expectations that shopping online be efficient, time saving and informative. However,
we caution that this not be achieved at the expense of providing a personalized experience."

Customer Service Information:
Ninety-five percent of the sites include a toll-free phone number on their sites making
this an absolute "must have" feature.

Addressing newer online shoppers' resistance to buying online, seventy-one percent
provided a guarantee vs. just forty-five percent last year in 2003 (LY) while thirty-six
percent offered first-time users tips.

Keyword Search:
Found on ninety-five percent of the sites but most importantly, a vast improvement in
correct and relevant results found when searching for descriptive phrases as charted.

Receiving responses to emails within twenty-six hours is consistent with last year.
However, we were disappointed to see many more merchants sending automated
responses or referrals to vendors rather than attempting to personally address customer
queries. Although those offering live-help has held at about one-fourth of the sites,
working order has improved with ninety-two percent vs. eighty-eight percent LY
functioning. On the downside, times to chat were much higher due to longer wait times
most likely due to multi-tasking customer service representatives.

Also consistent with last year was the presence of online shipping status
(ninety-two percent vs. ninety-one percent LY) as well as the average number of business
days to receive products at 4.4 days.

The Shopping Process:
Factoring that clicks to checkout vary by the complexity of a product's attributes this
metric has stabilized, respectively averaging 4.8 in 2004, 4.6 in 2003 and 4.9 in 2002.

Improvements to the shopping process included more presence of real time inventory
(seventy-nine percent vs. sixty-eight percent LY), more product recommendations in the
shopping cart (fifty-six percent vs. fifty percent LY), and more one-click settings
(thirty-eight percent vs. twenty-four percent LY).

The Order Confirmation:
Among the initiatives to improve communications, ninety-one percent of the e-tailing
100 provided an immediate order confirmation in the shopping cart vs. eighty-nine
percent LY; Ninety-seven percent emailed a shipping confirmation vs. eighty-one percent LY.
"While it is reassuring to see stabilization in benchmarks year-to-year," concluded Freedman,
"we fear that some of the consistency may be a result of focus on profitability and restricted
investment in resources for site innovation. For continued growth, merchants must now
leverage technologies to contain costs and optimize resources in order to deliver ever more
personalized and integrated multi-channel shopping experiences."

About the e-tailing group, inc.

Founded in 1994, with the belief that new technologies enable promotion of products/services for the ultimate customer reach, the e-tailing group, inc. is a shopper-centric e-commerce consulting firm. The firm's expertise and point of differentiation is their merchant mentality that fosters development of e-commerce as a distribution channel. Their mission is to leverage the art of merchandising to improve customers' multi-channel shopping experiences. Customized merchandising programs, innovative e-commerce solutions and go-to-market strategies for online merchants and related technologies/services, optimize implementation of multi-channel merchandising and customer service tools. In addition to consulting, the e-tailing group's proprietary Mystery Shopping and Merchandising Surveys help to set cross-channel standards for industry performance. Company leaders are featured speakers at many industry events.
For more background about this research study, including a list of merchants surveyed or for additional information on the e-tailing group, inc. please contact Lauren Freedman at or visit our website


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