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Jan 19, 2009 | 3 minute read

Have You Mystery Shopped Your Site Lately?

written by Linda Bustos

Every year Lauren Freedman and the e-tailing group conduct a Mystery Shopping Study of the top 100 online retailers. The researchers go through the process of selecting one product for ground delivery on each of the 100 sites, contact the merchant via telephone, live chat or email and return the product either in-store or on-site, depending on the options available.

You can check out the press release for the e-tailing group's 11th Annual Mystery Shopping Study
to see which online retailers made the top 9 for customer experience and how they scored on various scoring criteria compared to averages across retailers. There are also a number of tips and a customer service checklist that you can use as a guide when mystery shopping your own online store.

Here is my summary of the e-tailing group's recommendations along with some Get Elastic tips and comments:

Essential Features and Functionality

  • Have an 800-Number, but also display it visibly on every page of your site so the customer doesn't have to go digging (Tip: show the 800 Number close to your add to cart button and throughout your checkout process in case there's an issue with the order)
  • Provide an FAQ page for customer self-service (Tip: if a customer lingers on an FAQ page this is a good time to deliver a live chat prompt)
  • Show "real-time inventory" (a clear "IN STOCK" on the product page, or "ITEM NOT AVAILABLE") (Tip: disable the add to cart button when an item is not in stock, and provide an "email me when item is back in stock" link, with estimated re-stock date if possible)
  • Show a "stepped checkout" to show the customer how far along in the process they are (Tip: Split-path test your checkout with 4 or less steps to see which has higher conversion)

I would add sending a shipping confirmation email as 100% essential, and watch the sender name!

A Cut Above The Basics

  • List customer service hours on-site
  • Stand behind your products, offer a 100% guarantee
  • Use a perpetual shopping cart (show quantity of items in the cart and display on every page of the site). (Tip: make it very obvious when the cart has been updated)
  • Display thumbnail images in the shopping cart review page (Tip: also show the exact color added, especially for apparel)
  • Recap the cart contents on the thank-you page

I would add providing a shipping cost calculator based on zipcode on the product page and showing an estimated arrival date rather than number of business days to ship.

And don't forget to include shipping cutoff dates for holidays.

Express/Customer Conveniences - Giving Customers More Control

  • Allow customer to check-out without creating an account (Tip: do explain benefits of sign up when giving customers the option)
  • Consider direct to cart buying from category page (depending on your market)
  • Consider one-click settings for faster checkout, customer convenience (and incentive to create an account)
  • Use a "persistent shopping cart" which stores the contents of the customer's cart for a future visit (Tip: check your web analytics for your typical "days to purchase" when deciding how long to set your persistent cookie)
  • Make online return forms available for customer convenience

Don't forget to make your non-product information accessible from your search box so customers can locate policies quickly.

If customers are using your site to research offline purchases, you should also mystery-shop your store locator.

If you really want to go above and beyond to stand out in customer service, be like Zappos and hire CSRs for culture and empower them to go the extra mile for customers. I'll say it's paid off for Zappos.

Sell across the border? You may also be interested in these international ecommerce usability tips.