Holiday Buyers Happiest with Amazon, Netflix

If shoppers could make a list of which online retailers were naughty or nice this holiday season, Amazon.com and Netflix would have qualified for gifts, while the likes of Circuit City, Home Depot and Overstock.com would have gotten coal in their stockings.

Of the top 40 e-retailers, only Amazon and Netflix scored above 80 on a 100-point customer satisfaction scale, according to ForeSee Results, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company that measures the satisfaction levels of online shoppers. Amazon and Netflix both registered scores of 84, while QVC came in next at 79, ForeSee said.

Foresee, which based its scores on a survey of more than 9,000 visitors to the 40 Web sites, added that Amazon in particular continues to set the bar for customer satisfaction, helping the retailer to build loyalty among its customers.

"In a recession, knowing that improving customer satisfaction with your Web site can engender that kind of loyalty and purchase intent is like money in the bank," Larry Freed, Foresee's president and CEO, said in a statement. "But too many e-retailers are ignoring this crucial metric, and it shows in the results of our study."

The Foresee survey showed that nearly 40% of the 40 measured sites saw their customer satisfaction ratings drop from last year's levels. The largest declines were for the Home Shopping Network, which dropped by 9% to a score of 69, and The Gap, which dropped 7% to end up at 69 as well.

Altogether, more than one-fourth of the retailers finished with scores of 70 or below, according to Foresee. "That's just not playing to win in this economy," Freed said.

On the plus side, 10 retailers improved their customer satisfaction scores from last year. ForeSee reported that the biggest gainers included Hewlett-Packard's online store, which rose 7% to a score of 76; Staples, which gained 6% to reach 77; Wal-Mart, which jumped 5% to 78; and Target, which went up 4% to 75.

The online shopping season got off to a slow start this year. But once Dec. 1 hit, shoppers came alive with the holiday spirit, according to data compiled by online research firm comScore Inc.

Through the first 35 days of the 2008 holiday shopping season -- Nov. 1 to Dec. 5 -- online buyers in the U.S. spent $14.92 billion, about the same amount as they did during that period last year, comScore said.

But Dec. 1, also known as Cyber Monday, was a heavy shopping day in its own right. Online shoppers spent $846 million that day, a 15% increase over spending on the Monday after Thanksgiving a year ago, according to another report issued by comScore.

Some analysts said earlier this month that holiday sales probably would have been even stronger had several companies -- including Sears, Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue -- not been hit with Web site breakdowns that marred the kickoff of online shopping in the days after Thanksgiving.

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