A report released today ranking the top 100 online retailers for customer satisfaction finds that the customer's experience with a retailer's Web site is a key component in determining customer loyalty and an indicator of longer-term financial success.
Rating highest were movie rental firm Netflix.com and apparel vendor QVC.com, which were tied at 85 on a scale of 100 for top of mind with online consumers, followed closely by online retailer Amazon.com and BN.com, bookseller Barnes & Noble's online site, with scores of 83 and 82 respectively.
Near the top, Apple.com and TigerDirect.com were tied with five other non-PC and electronics retailers for fifth place all with scores of 79. Meanwhile PC and electronics retailers NewEgg.com and Dell.com fell just below that, tied at 78 along with another five non-electronics retailers for sixth place.
Perhaps ironically, although those four online PC retailers ranked in the top 20 of the 100 sites rated, the category of computers and electronics itself was tied for last with the apparel and accessories category.
The report, which was produced by online customer satisfaction management firm ForeSee Results of Ann Arbor, Michigan, surveyed 20,000 consumers who had visited the top 100 revenue-grossing retail Web sites identified by the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide within the previous 14 days. It is titled "the ForeSee Results Top 100 Online Retail Satisfaction Index."
The survey was conducted using a methodology developed at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor called the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), according a statement by ForeSee Results.
Interestingly, the users' satisfaction with their site experience was the most important criteria for consumers, rather than the lowest price, which drives a lot of purchases in so-called "bricks and mortar" stores.
"Price was the lowest scoring element," Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, told internetnews.com. "Meeting customers' needs, setting expectations and living up to them [produces] the kind of satisfaction that drives decisions and customer loyalty more than anything else," he added.
So who ended up with the lowest rankings? In the computers and electronics category that turned out to be PCConnection.com and PCMall.com, both with scores of 67, and Etronics.com with 68. In fact, those three were the lowest ranked Web retailers in the entire survey, which helped to drag down the category overall.
Meanwhile, other computers and electronics online retailers, including CircuitCity.com, BestBuy.com, CompUSA.com, CDW.com, and Gateway.com landed squarely in the middle rankings with figures ranging from 74 down to 70.
According to the report, online retailers tend to do better by investing in improving customers' online experience than by dropping their prices.
"Satisfaction drives loyalty, positive word of mouth, ROI, and future financial performance," the report said. It also said researchers found a "tight link between customer satisfaction and customers propensity to choose a particular retailer."
What sets the winners apart? Outside of customer experience, it's hard to say, given the diversity of business models and customer sets, even within the same category.
"Apple has a limited set of products and has a very targeted audience [while] NewEgg attracts very tech-savvy customers," said Freed. "[At the same time,] BestBuy targets all kinds of segments with a wide range of products."
One interesting data point -- shoppers who saw reviews on the retailer's Web site of products offered by the retailer were 10 percent more satisfied than those who didn't, with scores of 77 versus 70, according to the report.