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Which Retailers Know Their Products Best?

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Did the customer service representative you talked with know if those rain boots fit true to size? If the keyboard in your cart is compatible with a Macbook? If that cutting board is dishwasher-safe?

Consumers spend a lot of time researching and purchasing products online. As a result, we expect a retailer's customer service team to have a strong knowledge of the products being offered. There's nothing more frustrating than having to call a customer service line and then talking with someone who clearly doesn't know the answers to your questions (and we've all been there).

On the flip side, when a retailer consistently provides helpful product information, we're more willing to complete a purchase and even become a repeat customer.

So, as we lead up to the holiday shopping blitz, StellaService Analysts conducted the following study to unearth the best-in-class performers in online retail that have made knowledge and education of their customer service representatives a priority.

Best-In-Class Online Retailers

Here are the top five best-in-class performers by category. In each category, these retailers provided an "adequate" or "excellent" response to our inquiries in 96.5 percent+ of interactions with StellaService Analysts in the 6-month time period from March 1, 2013 to August 31, 2013. (Full methodology at the end of the post.)

Best-in-class retailers: Phone
  • CrateandBarrel.com
  • JCrew.com
  • LLBean.com
  • Shop.lululemon.com
  • Wayfair.com
Best-in-class retailers: Email
  • JCrew.com
  • LLBean.com
  • Shopping.HP.com
  • SurLaTable.com
  • Vistaprint.com
Best-in-class online retailers: Live Chat
  • CrateandBarrel.com
  • EddieBauer.com
  • LLBean.com
  • Nordstrom.com
  • REI.com

Takeaway for Online Shoppers: Use the Phone and Live Chat for the Best Responses

StellaService has previously written about consistent service quality being the key to success for LLBean.com, a retailer that continues to do well in StellaService Benchmarks, a monthly ratings index that highlights the best customer service performance. For this study, LLBean.com was the only company to be named best-in-class for each of the contact methods analyzed -- Phone, Email and Live Chat.

JCrew.com, which has secured the top spot in Stella Monthly Benchmarks for the previous two months, landed in best-in-class for both Phone and Email for this study.

Overall, we found that retailers are better prepared to handle product questions over Phone and Live Chat, so keep this in mind when trying to get an accurate answer.

In Practice: Sample Interaction from the Study

In a phone interaction from March, the StellaService Analyst asked the customer service representative (CSR) from LLBean.com the following product-related questions:

Inquiry: "I was looking at the women's Double L Jeans (straight-leg flannel-lined), and love the boots in the picture. Do you sell the boots too?"

Response: The CSR explained that the shoe was the Women's Bean Boots, and that the specific ones in the picture are the black-colored boots. He pointed out that the sizing is different for this boot than other boots, and explained that it's meant to be worn with a thicker, more heavyweight sock.

The agent received an excellent score for product knowledge in this interaction. The issue was resolved, and there was no need to contact the company again. Product specifications provided were very helpful, and the CSR recommended that if the caller doesn't use a thicker sock, they should order down a size for a better fit.

The CSR asked if the caller wanted to place an order online or over the phone, and acted professionally throughout the call. Not only was the reply thorough, but our Analyst was quick to reach an agent -- total time to reach an agent for this interaction was 6 seconds.

Methodology

This Product Knowledge study includes online retailers that responded to 90 percent or more of StellaService Analysts' inquiries in 3 days or less for email, and 20 minutes or less for Phone and Live Chat, for the 6-month time period beginning March 1, 2013 and ending August 31, 2013.

To measure the quality of product knowledge in each contact channel, StellaService Analysts score the response received by Customer Service Representatives on a scale of 1 to 3 (inadequate, adequate or excellent) based on the helpfulness of the information provided about the product.

The percentage represents the interactions received by StellaService Analysts that were adequate or better.

The product questions asked by StellaService Analysts are tailored to the specific category in which the retailer falls. For instance, all sporting goods retailers may have been asked about a piece of sporting equipment.

StellaService sends customer service questions to retailers via Phone, Email and Chat on a daily basis. In order to assess the entire customer experience, StellaService also measures the shipping, returns and refund performance of the leading online retailers.