Mass Merchant Fulfillment Performance Wavers Across Product Categories


Do shoppers have a better delivery experience ordering from ‘category-specific’ retailers than mass merchants? Think: L.L.Bean vs. Amazon for Apparel, HP vs. Costco for Electronics or Crate & Barrel vs. Sears for Home Furnishings.

We evaluated the fulfillment performance data of six mass merchants — Amazon, Costco, Kohl’s, Sears, Target, and Walmart — across three specific product categories: Apparel / Accessories, Electronics and Home Furnishings and compared performance to that of retailers specializing in that category.

The time frame for this study was May-July 2014, and the six mass merchants were:

  • Amazon
  • Costco
  • Kohl’s
  • Sears
  • Target
  • Walmart

The first three months of data tell an interesting story. Only two of the six outperformed the vertical across all three categories. That is, only two mass merchants — Costco and Sears — consistently delivered Electronics, Home Furnishings and Apparel faster on average than their category-specific …

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Sears Rolls Out Curbside Returns, Exchanges


Sears has added returns and exchanges to its popular In-Vehicle Pickup service. The new integrated retail service, powered by the Shop Your Way mobile app, lets members pick up, return or exchange their purchases for free – guaranteed in five minutes or less – without ever leaving their vehicle.

It’s a great option for consumers, as Sears has struggled with refund speed in 2014. StellaService data shows the retailer’s Total Days to Refund has doubled since March, now averaging close to 14 days through August. Sears trails competitors like Amazon, Target and Walmart in the metric.

But, Sears has certainly found success in leveraging its physical stores to ship products faster. And, earlier this year the retailer aimed to better connect in-store and online shopping with the launch of In-Vehicle Pickup.

Curbside returns and exchanges takes that concept of convenience to the next level.

This is how it works:

  • To start an in-vehicle return or exchange, a customer visits, …

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Time to Prepare Your CSRs to Answer Questions About Apple Pay


In addition to the iPhone 6, Apple announced Tuesday a payments platform accepted at more than 220,000 merchant locations as well as digital shopping applications.

Now payments happen with a single touch.

To pay, users will hold their iPhone near a reader with their finger on the phone’s built in fingerprint reader. A subtle vibration and beep lets users know the payment has been made. Users can also use Apple Pay to pay with a single touch in apps. Checking out is as easy as selecting “Apple Pay” and placing a finger on the fingerprint reader.

With the iPhone’s share of the mobile device market and projections for sales of the iPhone 6, Apple Pay has great potential.

Participating brick-and-mortar retailers include Babies”R”Us, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Nike, Staples and Toys”R”Us, while retailers offering Apple Pay in-app include Sephora, Starbucks and Target.

Of course, in the wake of major data breaches at retailers in recent months, …

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Lowe’s Funnels Customer Feedback Through “Rant or Rave” App


Social networks have proven to be a challenging channel to service customers, who often turn to Twitter or Facebook to air grievances.

Part of the challenge is providing a good solution to a customer’s issue in 140 characters (or less when you include the user’s Twitter handle). And for obvious privacy concerns, a retailer doesn’t want to encourage customers to publicly share details like order and shipping information.

Lowe’s has created a microsite and application to collect and respond to customer feedback, from sources including Twitter and Facebook, that seems to address these challenges. Both the Lowe’s Twitter account dedicated to customer service, @lowescares, and its main account, @lowes, replies to customer tweets and refers them to the microsite.

@dewittrunner1 Lori, we understand your frustration, pls let us help you. Share the details with us at

The link sends the Twitter user to, a microsite that encourages visitors …

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These 19 Retailers Are Keeping Customers Informed During the Refund Process


Keeping customers guessing is a good way to keep them from coming back.

And, surprisingly, many retailers fail to keep customers fully informed throughout the returns and refunds process.

As part of its ongoing measurement of customer service practices, StellaService tracks notifications sent to StellaService Analysts during the returns process. In 2014 to date, 19 companies included in StellaService’s coverage set have provided notifications for every return. It’s an admirable accomplishment and it will be interesting to see how many of the retailers will stay consistent throughout the remainder of the year.

The most common communications received by StellaService Analysts are:

  • Product is en route back to the warehouse
  • Product was received at the warehouse/Return was processed
  • Notice of no need to return item to receive a full or partial refund or credit
  • Refund/credit is being processed or is complete
  • Notification of an issue with the refund or credit
  • Refund/credit amount …

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StellaService Report: Essential Holiday Ecommerce Data & Best Practices

Today we’re excited to release our Q3 2014 report, Essential Holiday Ecommerce Data & Best Practices. As more consumers are turning to the ease of online shopping, the stakes are rising for ecommerce retailers during the holiday shopping season. This report, available in full here, provides a snapshot of 2013 holiday performance, what service levels consumers expect for holiday performance in 2014 and how retailers are trending into those expectations as the holidays approach. The report covers the following areas:

2013 Holiday Performance
Failure to meet Christmas cutoff shipping guarantees left gift-givers empty handed and call centers flooded. After a disappointing Holiday 2013, shoppers are more attuned to delivery speed and accuracy than ever and meeting promised holiday cutoff dates has never been so important. Just 11% of consumers will shop with a retailer again if a holiday shipping guarantee isn’t met.

2014 Holiday Consumer Survey
Customers are more emotional …

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Product Knowledge Gap Reveals Opportunity for Multi-Brand Retailers


The old phrase “straight from the horse’s mouth” supposedly originated in horse racing circles, indicating that the knowledge came from the source closest to the situation (the horse, of course). One of the earliest printed versions of the phrase was in a May 1913 edition of the Syracuse Herald.

“I got a tip yesterday, and if it wasn’t straight from the horse’s mouth it was jolly well the next thing to it,” the paper read.

When it comes to customer service, it’s no surprise that product knowledge is stronger when it comes “straight from the horse’s mouth,” or rather, the manufacturer of the product.

StellaService data shows that across Phone, Email and Chat, brand manufacturers provide superior Product Knowledge to online shoppers. In fact, brands that sell direct to consumers average 5% better Product Knowledge than multi-brand retailers when considering all product categories.

Interestingly, the gap in Product Knowledge between brands …

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Stella Benchmarks: Strong Performance Across All Service Areas Drives L.L.Bean to No. 1


Photo courtesy L.L.Bean Bootmobile on Twitter.

Phone calls. Emails. Live chats. Deliveries. Returns. Regardless of the service area, L.L.Bean provided a level of customer service across all channels in July that was among the best in the U.S.

And, it’s nothing new for the Maine-based apparel and outdoor gear retailer. This is the third month in 2014 that L.L.Bean has topped the overall rankings in Stella Benchmarks.

In July, L.L.Bean ranked 6th in Phone, 12th in Email, 7th in Chat, 16th in Shipping and 6th in Returns. It was that high level of performance across all channels that pushed the retailer to the top of the overall rankings.

“Many retailers choose to sacrifice performance in one area to excel at another,” said Kevon Hills, StellaService Vice President of Research. “L.L.Bean takes a holistic approach to service and they truly strive to be the best in every service area.”

Of course, there’s always opportunity to improve. In the month of July, L.L.Bean managed to …

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While Phone and Email Are Flat, Live Chat Speeds Have Improved in 2014


Strategies for delivering the highest level of customer care are being finalized as retailers brace for the holiday rush. And, it seems live chat has potential to be a great asset for customers and customer care teams alike.

StellaService data comparing February through July of 2013 and 2014 shows the speed of customer service is nearly identical over phone and email. Looking at a set of 25 top retailers (full list at the end of this article), average time to reach an agent on the phone was 2 minutes 15 seconds in 2013 compared to 2 minutes 17 seconds in 2014. Responses to emails averaged 11.9 hours in 2013 and 11.7 hours in 2014.

While the needle on performance hasn’t moved much in these channels, there has been a notable improvement in the speed of customer care via chat. The average time to reach an agent over chat was about 1 minute 4 seconds in 2013, but has dropped to 40 seconds in 2014.

More and more companies are focusing on chat as it provides an avenue for real-time …

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Last Year, Back-To-School Retailers Delivered Faster in August


According to the National Retail Federation’s latest Back-to-School/College Surveys, the average family with children in grades K-12 has completed just half (49.9%) of their shopping. That means there’s still time for retailers to grab a share of the expected $50 billion to be spent online for back-to-school items.

The days of loading the brood into the minivan for a trip to the mall to pick out backpacks could be over. Ecommerce obviously provides convenience. And, with several popular retailers enabling schools to upload supplies lists directly to ecommerce sites, back-to-school shopping is potentially easier than ever.

As the countdown is on for dorm move-in and the first day of class, delivery speed becomes more important to consumers. Interestingly, during this high-volume sales season, some retailers actually manage to improve fulfillment and delivery performance.

Looking at last year’s performance we found a set of nine popular back-to-school retailers that all …

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