Judging customer loyalty

There's a business for just about everything, I'm convinced. Last week, I received a press release from a company that uses metrics to study brand loyalty among brick-and-mortar stores. Now the company, Brand Keys, has extended its Customer Loyalty Index study to include online retailers.

Brand Keys devoted four of its 28 categories to online brands, including book and music retailers, brokerage firms, travel agencies and search engines.

Top-rated among all the categories was Google. Not surprising considering the affinity users have for the site. And it's even less surprising that search engines, which have become a starting page for many online visitors, held a majority of the top spots on the index. Holding in just below Google were Yahoo, Excite, AltaVista and Lycos. MSN.com, which is more of a pure portal, also showed up in the top 10.

Another no-brainer was Amazon.com's position at No. 2. Though BarnesandNoble.com and Borders.com have both tried to displace Amazon.com, it's still considered an icon of the Internet era.

The categories themselves were rated against each other, with search engines tying squarely with books and music. Brokerages came in just below those two, but above the travel sites.

The travel sites, according to Brand Keys, did not score well. The only exception was Expedia, which came in at No. 14. Travelocity was out of the top 20 at 22. Priceline.com held up the bottom spot at 28.

Brokerage firms were peppered throughout the list, starting with Charles Schwab in the No. 4 spot. Datek was just below at No. 9. E*Trade and Ameritrade were in the bottom rankings at 20 and 21, respectively.

Brand Keys asserts that the index finds "most Internet brands are vulnerable to competitive threats." Until more consumers turn to the Web, this seems to be a given. How can you create brand equity if a majority of the people aren't using or being exposed to the brand?

I'd be curious to see how this index pans out in a few years when more shoppers will be wired to the hilt within their homes.

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