Customer service surveys cannot entirely distinguish between true,  direct customer service on the one hand and brand perception and reputation of the company providing the service on the other. A look at the customer service scores of the largest retailers proves that point. 24/7 Wall St. examined the internet retailers with the best and worst customer satisfaction ratings based on ForeSee’s Holiday E-retail Satisfaction Index.

To put those customer service rankings in context, we looked at how the parent companies that own the websites have performed recently. We found that a strong customer service rating often coincides with a company that has widely regarded brands.

It begs the question:  Does Apple have such a high customer service ranking because so many consumers love the Apple brands? Or, is Apple’s customer service for online shoppers really superior to that of other e-commerce businesses?  Apple is tied for second place in the index. is in first place. It also has a sterling reputation with consumers, as do some of its major products like the Kindle.

At the bottom of the ForeSee index are Gap, Sony, and Overstock. Gap recently said it would close 21 percent of its U.S. flagship stores. Sony has had trouble gaining sales for its PCs, games, smartphone and TV products. Overstock, an also-ran online department store, was founded in the days of the dial-up internet. It is hard to see how any of these could be at the top of the list. Or, perhaps if they were at the top of the list, they would not be in such deep trouble now.

ForeSee’s E-retail Satisfaction Index included the top 40 retailers by sales. The company surveyed 8,500 customers between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Despite its shortcomings,  24/7 Wall St. used the data from ForeSee as a foundation, because it is a reasonable measurement of the experience that consumers have with specific e-commerce sites, whether those sites are part of highly successful companies or ones on the verge of failure.

24/7 Wall St.: Worst product flops of 2011

There is also some evidence that a few troubled retailers have actually performed well online. Whether that success is enough to save the companies themselves is impossible to tell. One such example is Avon,  with online service that is tied for second among all e-commerce sites in the ForeSee index. But Avon recently posted a disastrous quarter, and its CEO of 12 years was dismissed. Similarly, JCPenney’s online operations’ customer satisfaction is equal to Apple’s, which is also tied for second place in the ForeSee rankings. However, JCPenney has lost sales to big-box retailers such as Walmart for years. It is worth noting that JCPenney just hired the head of retail stores at Apple to turn the bricks-and-mortar retailer around. Apple is one of the few companies that was successful online long before it began to build physical stores.

These are the companies with the worst online customer satisfaction.  To draw our conclusions about why they are on the list and what the relationship is between the companies and their e-commerce operations,  we examined three factors: the ForeSee satisfaction data, the annual sales of each of the companies, and the amount of traffic each site had in November— the most recent month measured by audience research firm Foresee describes its rating as “Average customer satisfaction with the top 40 U.S. e-retail websites increased by one point this year to tie 2009’s all time high score of 79 on the study’s 100-point scale. Satisfaction scores for individual e retailers span a 16-point range, from a high of 88 (Amazon) to a low of 72 (Overstock).”

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