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Dell And Amazon Rank High For Customer Experience

Staff Writer
Published: 2004-10-25

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Dell and Amazon.com deliver the best customer experience for consumers shopping online for computers and computer hardware, yet consumers are highly inclined to comparison shop according to a new study.

The study released by Keynote Systems, the worldwide leader in e-business performance management services, is the first to examine actual customer experience across leading computer hardware Web sites.

Keynote Customer Experience Rankings

Highest-Scoring Sites

1 Dell

2 Amazon.com

Lowest-Scoring Sites

9 Apple

10 IBM

The Keynote Customer Experience (CE) Rankings are based on research with 2,100 consumers as they interacted with 10 leading computer hardware manufacturer and reseller Web sites. The study provides the first competitive benchmarking for these sites based on actual consumer behavior with more than 250 metrics measured and evaluated for each site. The sites topping the rankings performed best, in aggregate, across all measured metrics, including those for customer satisfaction, brand impact and purchase conversion impact.

Dell and Amazon Excel

"There are some very clear leaders in the computer hardware market in terms of online customer experience," said Dr. Bonny Brown, director of research and public services for Keynote. "However, what is particularly surprising is that some very well-respected brands didn't measure up. This really shakes some existing assumptions."

According to the study, Dell's strong brand, comprehensive product offerings, and focus on ease of use drive high scores for the site across the board. The top ranking sites performed well in terms of providing easy search and product comparison capabilities, and comprehensive information about their products. The lower ranking sites generally did not perform as well in product research and during the purchase process.

Resellers Excel at Product Choice; Manufacturers Excel at Guidance and Options

The Keynote study also examined the competitive differences between computer hardware manufacturers versus reseller Web sites. Resellers enjoy a built in advantage in being able to provide a wider selection of products to choose from, to which consumers respond favorably. However, the reseller sites fail to make selecting and comparing those products easy, and consumers often become frustrated. Amazon.com was a prime example of this, with 39% of consumers expressing frustration with the site's product comparison functionality. Resellers were also the clear leaders in providing an easy, relatively hassle free purchase process.

Manufacturers have the significant advantage of providing consumers the opportunity to customize their product offerings, but are hampered by their relatively more limited product selection. The manufacturers excel in providing strong product comparison tools, and in online help and customer support. Apple was the lone exception, with four in ten (40%) users complaining about the site's product comparison functionality and information.

Overall, manufacturers performed better when consumers were shopping for computers, and resellers ranked higher when consumers were shopping for peripherals.

Consumers Like to Comparison Shop, But Frustrated with Lack of Tools and Guidance

In fact, product comparison is one of the most important factors for consumers when shopping for computer hardware, both within and between sites. Seven out of ten (71%) study participants preferred to comparison shop at multiple Web sites. In choosing which sites to comparison shop on, quality of products (93% citing) and site ease of use (60% citing) were the top factors, with price (37%) and financing options (17%) a considerably lower priority.

Difficulty in comparing products on a site was the top frustration for consumers across all sites, with one in four (27%) users reporting this frustration. The second biggest frustration (25%) for consumers was the lack of guidance and information available to help them in choosing the best computer and options. IBM users were the most inclined to shop on another site (56% very likely), and Dell users were the most satisfied and least likely to look to another site (32%).

"Resellers and manufacturers face different challenges. Resellers are challenged to build a site that accommodates a variety of merchandise," said Brown. "Whereas manufacturers must provide guidance and comparison tools to help customers better understand which products suit their needs. By focusing on these areas, there is significant opportunity for both resellers and manufacturers to improve their online customer experience."

Brands Affected by Poor Online Experience

In addition to directly affecting likelihood to purchase, the online experience also influences consumer perceptions about the overall brand of a manufacturer or reseller. Historically, across previous Keynote customer experience studies, the online experience typically increases or augments positive brand perceptions. However, in this study, the sites ranking poorly in terms of customer experience not only failed to see such augmentation, but in some cases ratings actually decreased after the online experience. In general, the manufacturers performed ahead of the resellers in terms of brand perceptions, and in generating improvements in brand perception post site experience.

"We've seen companies significantly improve their brand reputation through a positive online experience; a great Web site can be as impactful as a 20-minute infomercial," said Dr. Brown, an expert in social psychology and consumer interaction with the Web. "It's surprising how poorly some venerable brands performed in terms of delivering a positive online customer experience."

Online Shopping Trends and Habits

Consumers were fragmented in terms of choosing a starting point for a search for computer hardware, with almost a quarter (23%) starting at a search engine, and 17% starting at a specific reseller site and 15% starting at a specific manufacturer brand site.

Google (16%) was the most popular starting point, followed closely by Dell (12%). Other resellers, including Best Buy and Amazon, attracted less than half as many users at the outset, and no other manufacturer attracted more than 1% of consumers at the outset.

The Apple, Amazon.com, Best Buy, CompUSA, Dell, Gateway, HP, IBM, PC Connection and Sony Web sites were evaluated for this study. Other Keynote syndicated research (formerly known as Vividence syndicated research) includes examinations of the online retail and online banking industries.

Media, analysts and customers that are interested in a more detailed understanding of the study results are invited to contact Keynote.

Keynote Customer Experience Rankings

The Keynote Customer Experience (CE) Rankings are competitive benchmarking studies of customer behavior and attitudes across leading Web sites in specific vertical industries. The studies provide critical business insight into online customer experiences, industry trends and competitive Web strategies. Keynote uses proprietary software and a panel of thousands of real consumers to gather the quantitative, qualitative and behavioral data that inform the reports.

For each study, Keynote monitors approximately 2,000+ consumers as they perform tasks at leading Web sites. More than 150 metrics are captured, measured and evaluated for each site reviewed. These metrics are then used to compose indexes and benchmarks in a number of categories including customer satisfaction, brand impact and customer loyalty. The Web sites topping the Keynote CE Rankings performed best, in aggregate, across all measured indices and metrics.

The Keynote CE Rankings are the successor to the Vividence CE Rankings following Keynote's acquisition of Vividence in September 2004.

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