Apple Tops Customer-Satisfaction List for Holidays

Consumers were happier with their online shopping experience at Apple's site this holiday season than at any other computer or electronics maker, a customer satisfaction measurement company said today.

Apple 's satisfaction score climbed 5% in November and December 2009 compared to the same months last year, said Larry Freed, president of Michigan-based ForeSee Results. The company's score of 82 was four points higher than in 2008, and three points higher than in 2007.

ForeSee measures customer satisfaction using a survey of more than 10,000 visitors to the top 40 retail sites as ranked by annual sales revenue. This is the fifth year that the company has published its satisfaction findings.

"Apple wins on merchandise," said Freed, explaining the company's high ranking. "Not on price. But they're also very, very strong in site experience," he added, noting that Apple's e-store has had a consistent look over the years, something consumers appreciate.

"Apple has had some struggles the last two years," said Freed. "Not that the site got worse, but Apple's customer base expanded with the iPhone, and broadened beyond Mac computers. Apple's site is a different experience -- it has a 'Safari' look if you will -- and it takes time to get used to."

All other computer and electronics sites in the top 40 lagged behind Apple, as they have historically, said Freed. Newegg.com and TigerDirect.com, for example, posted scores of 81 and 80, respectively, but more direct rivals Dell and Hewlett-Packard earned lower scores of 79 and 78. Circuit City's Web site came in dead last in the category, at 73.

"Dell did take a jump," Freed noted, pointing to the five-point increase this year over 2008's 74. HP 's site satisfaction score rose only two points from last year's 76.

But even Apple's satisfaction score couldn't match that of the season's leader, Amazon, which garnered a record 87 in ForeSee's survey. "Amazon set the standard for e-commerce, and their satisfaction scores have been very, very good year after year," said Freed. "Amazon leads the pack in just about every category we measure."

Other e-tailers ahead of Apple in the satisfaction rankings race were Netflix, with a score of 86, and QVC.com, with 83.

The gains by Amazon, Apple and other major retailers during 2009 came at the expense of mid- and small-sized retailers, who were simply not able to keep up during the recession, Freed argued. "In this economic environment, it's a lot tougher for a mid-sized or small retailer to compete not only on price, but also on things like free shipping, customer support and overall site design," he said. "So the big are getting better."

ForeSee Results owns the technology developed by the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a noted annual customer satisfaction project, and uses the ACSI methodology to calculate its scores.

Last August, ACSI reported Apple's customer satisfaction score stood at 84, down a point from 2008, but nine points higher than its nearest competitor, Dell, and 10 points higher than Hewlett-Packard.

ForeSee's report can be downloaded from its Web site by submitting name, company, phone number and e-mail address.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter @gkeizer , send e-mail at gkeizer@ix.netcom.com or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed .

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