Forrester Joins Web Site Rating Game

Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR) launched its new PowerRankings service today, joining the crowd of research companies that are offering Web shoppers ranking services to help them navigate the merchant maze.

Forrester will now compete with research companies such as Media Metrix, PC Data and StatMarket, and dozens of consumer information services such as Biz Rate and thePublicEye.com.

The Better Business Bureau and even the Federal Trade Commission have also gotten into the mix, but Forrester believes that its combination of consumer survey data, shopping experience tests and expert analysis from Internet researchers will set PowerRankings apart from the crowd.

Company president George Colony feels that such a service can make online shopping much faster and easier for consumers, while building Forrester’s reputation for online research. “Consumers don’t want to learn where to shop and buy online by trial and error; they need a reliable guide to help them make informed decisions about choosing an Internet merchant,” he added.

Objective And Unbiased

Despite the fact that Forrester makes a living from selling research reports to corporations and organizations with a stake in the industries that Forrester investigates, the company claims that the PowerRankings will be unbiased and objective.

To keep this objectivity, Forrester will not accept advertising for the site, nor will it participate in vendor referral or link exchange programs, which drive revenue for companies based on how frequently site visitors click through to other sites.

The PowerRankings site currently ranks online brokerages and companies in seven major retail categories. The company plans to add more categories in the future.

The list page shows the top five in each category, with a sentence or phrase summarizing the dynamics of each category. For example, the inaugural “Brokerage” list consists of Charles Schwab, Merrill Lynch and the online divisions of three other established Wall Street firms, prompting Forrester to conclude that “Dot-coms trail traditionals in online trading.”

Not surprisingly, Amazon.com leads the pack for the “books, music and videos” category. The company also leads the pack in toy sales, ahead of eToys.com, KBkids.com and Toys “R” Us.

Drugstore.com tops the health category, Hallmark the online flower list and Land’s End the apparel category. Forrester rates Cyberian Outpost tops in the computer goods group.

Variety Of Indicators

To solicit direct consumer views on e-commerce sites, Forrester is working with Greenfield Online to survey members of Greenfield’s 400,000 person online panel.

Companies listed in each PowerRankings category are linked to full-page reports on those companies, including numerical ratings for six criteria specific to the retail category. The page also allows visitors to compare a company to others for each of those criteria, and the visitors can provide further feedback in the site’s online consumer satisfaction survey.

Unlike some other ratings sites, Forrester uses its team of researchers to provide added value for the PowerRankings service. Brief comments from the company’s analysts try to put the intangibles into words for visitors who, even after examining the ranking data, may still be on the fence about a company.

The comments are short and snappy. Examples include: “E*TRADE may run the funniest ads on TV, but this brokerage doesn’t stand out with consumers” and “DLJdirect, the granddaddy of online brokerages, doesn’t excel in any one category.”

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