Although online retailers reported banner sales this past holiday season, market researcher
Jupiter Media Metrix warns that these e-tailers could lose customers if they don’t beef up their
customer-service response times and work harder at fielding e-mail requests.
“It’s definitely more important for online-only merchants to maintain good customer
service,” says Jupiter senior analyst David Daniels, who notes that more customers are likely to stop
shopping with online retailers that let them down, compared to offline retailers that do the same.
For one thing, online shopping is still a new experience and customer confidence must be won.
Furthermore, since the primary contact customers have with the vendor is via computer, not face-to-face,
e-mailed customer service requests are a key form of communication, and must be replied to promptly. In fact,
Jupiter reports that 57 percent of people they polled in a November 2001 consumer survey say that a retailer’s
response to a customer service e-mail would affect their future decisions to purchase from that particular
While 33 percent of the online retailers that Jupiter tracked last month resolved basic
customer service requests within six hours, 40 percent took more than three days to respond, or didn’t bother
to reply at all, the researcher reports. Meanwhile, although 28 percent of offline retailers replied to
customer service issues within six hours, only 28 percent took longer than three days to respond or didn’t
respond at all.
Daniels says that the sheer influx of online shoppers this season may have caught some
e-tailers off guard. Furthermore, many online retailers lacked customer service tools such as an e-mail
automation system and outsourced support staff, he says.
The importance customers place on service is even thornier for click-and-mortar vendors,
which not only face losing customers online but in the real world as well. According to Jupiter, 53 percent
of consumers polled say that they would be less likely to buy from a retailer’s offline store if they had a
negative experience with their online channel.
To avoid a customer service debacle and the possibility of losing customers, retailers should
worry less about offering deep discounts, Jupiter says, and focus more on improving customer service. Not
only should retailers collect customer feedback and preferences through surveys, they should also track
historical response-time data.