Report: The Grinch That Stole Online Christmas

The biggest culprit that kept online shoppers from becoming online buyers this past holiday season was poor customer service - not frustration over technical glitches - according to a report by Resource Marketing.

"In the race to grab new business, many sites forgot the customer," said Kelly Mooney, managing director of intelligence for the Columbus, Ohio-based Internet services concern.

Mooney and her six-member cybershopping team visited 50 sites over 10 weeks, placing orders, returning merchandise and contacting customer service departments.

"It's no wonder that ... abandoned online shopping carts have soared to as high as 88 percent," she said.

Among the charges:

"PC Flowers & Gifts never responded to e-mail inquiries, did not include an invoice, and did not post merchandise return information on its site."

"Due to technical glitches at Banana Republic, customers lost entire shopping carts of items at checkout."

Computerworld calls to Banana Republic's corporate headquarters in San Francisco weren't returned.

A separate poll of 1,500 consumers conducted by Resource and Research Connections @Talk City about their online shopping experience showed a gap between what they consider important and what they experienced online, said Amy Yoffie, vice president of market research for Research Connections in Westfield, N.J. For example:

Nearly 70 percent of consumers think online retailers should accept returns at their brick-and-mortar stores. Barnesandnoble.com was among those retailers that did not, Resource said. Barnes and Noble Inc. and barnesandnoble.com are separate companies, said a spokeswoman for the New York-based parent company. Books returned to the dot-com must be brought to its warehouse for a refund, she said.

But Barnes and Noble will accept any book in mint condition from any bookstore for exchange or store credit, she added.

An overwhelming 92 percent of online shoppers want retailers to pay return shipping charges, Research Connections said.

"E-retailers will have to learn what customers really want and demand - not just what they'll tolerate - and start giving it to them, one customer, one transaction at a time," Yoffie said.

"In the end, consumers will reward retailers who get it right, and ruin those who don't," she said.

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