Major Retailers Get Mixed Reviews For Online Customer Respect - InformationWeek

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Major Retailers Get Mixed Reviews For Online Customer Respect

The largest retailers, overall, have done a good job at listing privacy policies, but are also sharing customer data without permission.

Major retailers are doing a good job at explaining their privacy policies to online customers, but many of those same companies are sharing customer data with affiliates or partners without seeking permission, a research firm said Wednesday.

Only a quarter of the companies surveyed in the fourth quarter of 2004 by the Customer Respect Group had a clear “opt-in” policy whereby customers must give their permission to have personal data shared with others. Almost half of the retailers shared personal data received by customers without seeking permission, the CRG said.

Nevertheless, the analysis of 58 of the largest retailers on the web found that all listed privacy policies, indicating that the industry was “open and honest” about their use of customer information, the research and consulting firm said.

As a group, retailers, like other industries studied by the CRG, scored worst in responsiveness, defined as the willingness to respond quickly and in a helpful manner to online customer questions. About 15 percent of the surveyed companies did not reply to email inquiries, and another 14 percent did so only partially.

Overall, 40 percent of all inquiries sent to retailers resulted in a timely response, with 70 percent of those responses arriving within a day, the CRG said. Online customers, in general, expect to receive an answer within 24 hours.

Based on its findings, the CRG assigns a Customer Respect Index to each surveyed company, with 10 being the highest score. scored highest overall among specialty retailers with a CRI of 8. Ann Taylor Stores, Foot Locker and Pottery Barn tied for second with 7.9, Lowe’s Cos. was third with 7.8. Payless ShoeSource was at the bottom with a CRI of 4.7.

Among general merchandisers, Sears, Roebuck & Co. topped the list with a 7.8, followed, in order, by Wal-Mart Stores, 7.6; and Kohl’s, 7.5. May Department Stores was last with a 4.5.

Among food and drug stores, Kroger was No. 1 with 6.9; Walgreen was second with 6.8 and Albertson’s third with 6.7. Safeway was last with a CRI of 4.6.

“It is interesting to see the growing correlation between the top performers in the CRI to the top revenue performers,” Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group, said in a statement. “Customers buy from web sites that they trust and where they believe their dollars and, just as key, their personal information is safest.”

Customer perception of a retailer’s web site has grown in importance as the amount of money spent on the web increases steadily. Holiday shoppers, for example, spent $23.2 billion online during the 2004 season, a 25 percent increase over the $18.5 billion spent on the web during the same period in 2003, according to a joint report from Goldman, Sachs & Co., Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings.

Categories generating the highest year-over-year growth in holiday dollars included jewelry, flowers and computer hardware and peripherals.

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