More E-Holiday Shoppers, But Fewer Smiles

The good news about the recent e-commerce holiday season is that e-tailers succeeded in attracting more customers. The bad news is that a growing number of online shoppers went away unsatisfied.

According to a study released Monday by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 80 percent of Internet users shopped online for gifts this year, compared to 69 percent last year, and the percentage of those actually buying items increased to 74 percent from 69 percent.

At the same time, the percentage of e-shoppers reporting total satisfaction with the online shopping experience dipped below 1999 levels.

“Online retailers should not be too quick to celebrate the increased rate of online gift shopping in 2000,” said Mary Brett Whitfield, director of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ E-Retail Intelligence System. “Getting online gift shoppers to return in the New Year is crucial to their success.”

PwC’s findings were supported by a separate study released Monday by Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting), which found that despite efforts to improve e-tailer order fulfillment over the holidays, as many as 67 percent of e-tail deliveries were not received as ordered, and 12 percent were not received in time for the Christmas holiday.

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Among this year’s holiday online purchasers, 79 percent reported being completely satisfied (down 3 percent from 1999), while 21 percent reported being somewhat satisfied. Less than 1 percent of Net shoppers reported being entirely unsatisfied with the online shopping experience.

However, customer satisfaction rates dropped considerably among those who set out to buy gifts online but ended up with empty or abandoned shopping carts. Only 55 percent of these shoppers were completely satisfied, while 42 percent said they were partially satisfied with online shopping. Three percent of this group reported being totally dissatisfied.

The PwC study found that 10 percent of holiday shoppers who encountered problems at a particular e-tail site continued shopping, but 70 percent abandoned the site for another e-tailer or returned to the same e-tailer to resume shopping later.

Convenience, Not Price

PwC found that the majority of online holiday shoppers turned to the Net because it was more convenient than going to the mall, even if prices online were higher. The survey found that less than one third of Internet shoppers said they shopped online because lower prices or special promotional offers were available.

Online shoppers also said they used the Internet to buy gifts because it saved them time, allowed them to research products more efficiently and featured items that were not available locally.

Unfulfilled e-Shoppers

However, shoppers became frustrated when they learned that desired merchandise was out of stock, when Web pages took too long to load and when desired products were not being offered online.

The most persistent frustration for online holiday shoppers in 2000, according to the study, involved order fulfillment, the same issue that plagued many major e-tailers in 1999.

The study reported that consumers were frustrated when they did not receive adequate e-mails about the status of their orders, as well as when they were asked to pay extra fees to ensure that orders would arrive on time.

Whitfield told the E-Commerce Times that the PwC and Accenture studies differ because PwC looked at whether or not customers were satisfied while Accenture measured whether or not e-tailers met rigid criteria set by researchers.

Whitfield pointed out that consumers could still be satisfied with their purchases even if they did not arrive within the timetable established by the e-tailer. For instance, if a package arrived on December 12th instead of the 10th as promised, consumers might still have been satisfied because it arrived in time for Christmas, Whitfield said.

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