U.S. customer satisfaction growing in e-commerce sales

New U.S.-based research shows that consumers continue to rate their online shopping experiences highly, something that is helping to fuel steady growth in online sales.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), done by the University of Michigan and several other sponsors including the American Society for Quality, shows that online retail businesses in the U.S. garnered stronger results in customer satisfaction, loyalty and future growth than did traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee Results, in Ann Arbor, Mich., which sponsors the e-commerce portion of the overall ACSI study, said the results show that while online retail sales still make up only a small portion of overall retail sales in the U.S., satisfied consumers are expanding their purchases online, helping to provide a bright spot in retail sales growth.

The e-commerce results looked at 12 companies and surveyed consumers who made purchases from them over the Web. The results rank customer satisfaction with their online shopping experiences. Other parts of the overall ACSI study, which includes information from another 188 companies, focused on other market segments, including traditional retail stores, grocery stores, restaurants, banks, gasoline companies, insurance companies and health care companies.

The ACSI national average score for e-commerce customer satisfaction was 77.6 in 2002, up from 72.9 in 2001. That compares to off-line retail scores of 74.6 in 2002 and 74.8 in 2001.

In the e-retail segment of the report, the average score was 83 in 2002, compared to 77 in 2001. In this segment, Amazon.com Inc. led the customer satisfaction rankings with a score of 88, followed by Barnes & Noble.com Inc. with a score of 87. Buy.com Inc. was third with a score of 80.

“From an e-commerce perspective, these numbers are incredibly encouraging,” Freed said. “Intuitively, we know that if we do a good job for customers, they’re going to be good customers into the future.”

Freed said the biggest surprise in the results is that customer expectations for online shopping continue to grow, fuelled by their satisfaction so far with their past online experiences. E-businesses have been doing a good job so far of meeting those increased expectations, he said.

“Satisfaction is the most important thing for companies going forward,” Freed said. “It will ultimately lead to their success.”