PLAUT calls for improved e-commerce customer service Wednesday 15 November 2000 PDF Print Top ten recommendations issued to improve Christmas online shopping International business and technology consultancy PLAUT today called on the e-commerce industry to improve online customer service ahead of the Christmas period. PLAUT issued a checklist of ten recommendations for e-commerce sites to follow after conducting the PLAUT e-Returns Study(tm) of 25 major UK e-commerce Web sites. Recommendations include: 1 Appoint a director of customer fulfilment 2 Ensure cultural and organisational alignment 3 Understand your system and processes 4 Test and retest your system extensively 5 Clearly display cancellations and returns policies and adhere to them 6 Aim to centralise all customer communication 7 Communicate quickly 8 Refund money promptly 9 Make the cancellation and returns process simple 10 Aspire to treat customers as individuals The PLAUT e-Returns Study(tm) found serious problems in the order cancellations and returns process in 72% of sites, ranging from not refunding money to being impossible to cancel orders online. Only 15% of the companies examined provided a level of customer service equivalent to that expected by consumers on the High Street. An average service level was offered by the remaining 13%. A full copy of the report is available at http://www.plaut.co.uk The PLAUT e-Returns Study(tm) was based on a single test purchase carried out in September 2000 using a detailed and structured methodology. The single purchase scenario was devised to best represent the typical purchase, cancellation and return behaviour of an average customer. Key flaws identified in online customer care practices were: * Company uncontactable either via phone or email, despite being put on hold by phone operators for more than 90 minutes * Retailer delivered goods 21 days after confirming that the order had been cancelled * Customer charged for goods that had been confirmed as cancelled, despite retailer informing the customer that they would not be charged * Retailer completely lost the online order and could not accept returns by post, suggested they were taken back to the nearest High Street store * Retailer refunded money after goods were returned, minus the VAT and without any explanation The Plaut e-Returns Study(tm) rated five companies as providing equivalent customer service to the High Street. Customers at these sites were able to cancel orders online without being charged. Overall, the study identified 13 major problems in the e-commerce after sales process: * Companies accepted the order but items were missing * Financial errors in returns process * Delivery to credit card holder address only * Inability to get an answer out of anyone/speak to anyone * Failure to cancel order via Web site when claim to do so * Tracking numbers not matching online and off * Standard e-mail responses to specific requests * Bugs in site/site not tested on all browser types * Inability to take returns by post- have to be via High Street * Over 21 days to return money after cancellation or goods returned * Impossible to cancel order via e-mail/Web site * Orders delivered despite acknowledged cancellation * Not displaying a customer returns policy "This study shows that many e-commerce sites are paying lip service to customer service," commented Karl Thurston, managing director, PLAUT UK. "Service this poor wouldn't be tolerated on the High Street, and must be putting people off shopping online." "Businesses operating purely on the Web that are not customer-centric will fail, while traditional High Street businesses that don't address online customer relationship issues are likely to damage their whole business. There is a real danger that poor online customer care will lead to a miserable Christmas for consumers and ultimately for retailers as well." MORI recently predicted that 7 million people in the UK will shop online this Christmas, spending an average of £130 each. NOP predicts that £10 billion will be spent online in 2000 while business analysts at Gartner Group have calculated that it costs between $50 and $300 to 'win' each online customer. In the PLAUT e-Returns Study(tm), orders were placed on Web sites offering books/CDs, toys/gifts, clothing, household goods, food and drink and computer peripherals, with a typical value of £50 to mirror likely Christmas purchase patterns. The study surveyed traditional retailers, e-tailers and specialist online shops to ensure a comprehensive insight into the Web shopping experience in the UK. These orders were then cancelled if possible via email within 24 hours of being placed, and then returned if delivered. Sites were evaluated on speed of response, communication with customers and keeping promises made in their stated returns policies. "Companies must realise that e-commerce is much more than building an inviting Web site and making a sale. They must ensure that their business processes, and in particular their customer care practices, are fully enabled and continually supported by integrated IT systems," continued Thurston. "We advise companies to appoint one person, such as a director of customer fulfilment, to be responsible for the whole buying process, to understand and resolve the pressure points in their business processes and most of all to continually test their e-commerce systems." Notes for editors: 1. PLAUT classified the manner in which e-commerce businesses handled the sales and after sales on a scale of 1 to 5, ranging from very poor to excellent. Details of the classifications and how companies performed are outlined below: Ranking Main performance characteristic Companies 1 Very Poor Unable to cancel order either online or offline - Dell Delivered order despite acknowledging cancellation - Dixons Took more than 21 days to provide a refund after cancellation of order, despite being told that no charge would be made - Racing Green Returns policy involves visiting company's High Street outlet - Toys R Us Full refund not provided. Bugs in site - WHSmith 2 Poor Took more than 21 days to provide a refund after goods returned. Unable to cancel via Web site - Amazon Took more than 21 days to refund after goods returned. - Alternative Gifts Co, Anything LeftHanded Standard email responses with no follow up. - BOL Took one week to acknowledge cancelled order - Buy.com Delivered some goods despite cancellation of order - HMV Mismatch between service provided and service level - Le Gourmet or returns policy detailed on Web site - Francais Site crashed during sale but still charged - Sainsburys Unable to cancel online - Tesco Delay in acknowledging cancelled order - Thorntons 3 Average Took between 7 and 21 days to provide a refund after goods returned - Firebox, Charles Tyrwhitt Unable to cancel or track order via Web site, forcing customer to use phone, fax or post - Intersaver 4 Good Straightforward cancellation procedure. - eToys Credit card charged but re-credited within 7 days - Jungle.com 5 Excellent Flawless purchase, delivery and returns process - Appliance Direct, Bigsave.com, Country Bookshop, Marks and Spencer, Virgin Wines 2. A full management report on the e-Returns Study(tm) is available at http://www.plaut.co.uk 3. Photographs and illustrations are available from Rainier both in electronic and print format. 4. The key for the ranking of the e-commerce sites surveyed established is: Very Poor: cancellation/return experience likely to cause loss of customer Poor: cancellation/return experience likely to cause customer frustration Average: cancellation/return experience likely to cause customer inconvenience Good: cancellation/return experience satisfactory, but some imperfections Excellent: cancellation/return experience likely to encourage customer loyalty 5. The Plaut e-Returns Study(tm) was carried out over a period of 30 days from 20 September to 20 October 2000. Plaut acknowledges that other surveys at different times may yield different results. A full list of sites surveyed is available as part of the management report at http://www.plaut.co.uk 6. The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, which came into effect on 31st October 2000 transposes into UK law the EU directive on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts. Key features of the regulations are that the consumer must be given clear information about the goods or services offered, after making a purchase the consumer must be sent confirmation and that the consumer has a cooling-off period of 7 working days to cancel the transaction. 7. As in the High Street all Web sites surveyed had a returns policy stating that goods could be cancelled or returned after being ordered. 8. PLAUT is a leading business and technology-consulting firm that employs a team of 1,800 consultants worldwide. The company recently went public on the Neuer Markt in Frankfurt and has annual revenues in excess of £250 million. PLAUT has been established in the UK since 1994 and provides eBusiness, supply chain, customer relationship management (CRM) and ERP business consulting and IT services across a wide range of industries. PLAUT’s current clients include eLabsEurope, DigMedia plc, Miele, Paramount, Xerox, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Bulgari, Coats and Philip Morris , among others. This press release was distributed by ResponseSource Press Release Wire on behalf of Speed Communications in the following categories: Consumer Technology, Personal Finance, Business & Finance, Computing & Telecoms, for more information visit https://pressreleasewire.responsesource.com/about.