High Street stores fail Web test

A new survey by the Consumers Association reveals that high street shops are failing their customers with their Internet services

Leading high street stores, including WHSmith, PC World and Dixons, have been accused by the Consumers' Association of providing a significantly inferior Internet service to online-only retailers.

A survey published by the Association's Computer Which? magazine on Tuesday found that the computer store Dixons offers the worst standard of customer service, with only 16 percent of customers saying that they were satisfied with the service that they received. PC World came next with 32 percent, while less than half (42 percent) of WHSmith's online customers were satisfied with its quality of service.

"Their online service is not a big priority for them, and they haven't put the resources into it that specific online retailers have," said Tessa Russel, senior researcher at Computer Which? "High street shops have been expecting people to come to their Web sites because they know the retail name."

The survey of 4,000 readers revealed that online-only retailers provide a higher standard of service than the Web operations of their high street counterparts. Online bookstore Amazon came top in all but one of the five categories, with 69 percent of customers stating that they were very satisfied with its level of customer service, and 77 percent saying that they were satisfied with the delivery service.

Specialist computer e-tailers Dabs and Jungle came top in the availability of stock on their Web sites. PC World scored the lowest level of satisfaction with the availability of hardware and software. WHSmith was ranked bottom in the availability of books and CDs on its site -- only 47 percent of customers were able to purchase their desired book, and just 33 percent found their requested CD to be in stock.

"Major high-street names such as Dixons and PC World are clearly letting their customers down in cyberspace and still have some way to go to catch up with their Internet-only rivals," said Russel.

The Tesco Web site was the one exception to the rule and performed particularly well in the study. Sixty percent of consumers were happy with the level of service that they received when doing their grocery shopping online, and 70 percent were impressed with the quality of its delivery service.

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