Computer makers ignore customer emails

Dell, Sony and Compaq fared worst in a survey to test their email customer service - they failed to respond at all

Computer manufacturers have come bottom in a survery designed to test online retailers' responses to customer emails, with some of the biggest names failing to respond to emails at all.

The survey -- dubbed the "Saints and Sinners Census" -- contacted 100 leading high street and online retailers including Tesco, WH Smith, Amazon and Marks & Spencer with simple information requests via email. Saints were judged to be firms that responded speedily, helpfully and encouraged farther contact. Sinners were those companies that simply sent automated replies referring customers to their Web sites. Firms were divided by retail categories.

But the worst performing retail category was overwhelmingly computers and electronics, said Eyeconomy Consulting, the online marketing consultancy that conducted the survey. Dell, Sony, Compaq and Dixons all failed to respond at all. And the Tiny Web site had no email contact address, relying on snail mail or the telephone to answer customer queries.

"Given the immediacy of the Internet it is quite astonishing that so many leading retailers are treating their online customers so badly," commented Eyeconomy director Ray Taylor.

Overall, the survey found that 44 percent of the UK's leading retailers took over 24 hours to reply to requests for information.

While supermarkets Waitrose, Asda and Safeway were all judged to be relatively saintly, Tesco and Sainsbury fared less well, both failing to respond within 48 hours. This came as a surprise to Taylor. "Given Tesco's huge PR campaign to get customers shopping online, we were surprised by its poor customer service performance, " he said.

In the books and music category, Blackwells shone out with a speedy response of just 15 minutes. Online giant Amazon.com -- which last week posted better than expected results -- came in second place, responding within three hours. Streetsonline, Borders and HMV were among the sinners, all failing to respond within 48 hours.

The clothing sector contained a surprising number of sinners, including Dorothy Perkins, Racing Green, Top Shop, Austin Reed, Principles and Burton.

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