Amazon, Macy's Satisfy Online in the Holidays Even as eBay Goes Mobile

Retailers that have been expanding electronic commerce may have done themselves a big favor this holiday season, improving customer service at a time when high-tech shopping became more attractive to consumers.

And it wasn't just "traditional" e-commerce that made gains.

Electronic commerce advanced in 2009's close as some consumers used price comparison features to find better bargains and others avoided the rotten weather that struck much of United States as the holiday shopping season climaxed. Indeed, Amazon (AMZN) saw the opportunity the weather afforded. It extended low-cost shipping terms an extra day for consumers discouraged from hitting stores by nasty weather during the weekend before Christmas.

MasterCard SpendingPulse research demonstrated that online sales gains outstripped those in specific shopping categories. E-commerce sales gained 18 percent in the Black Friday through Christmas Eve period while electronics, the big mover among categories covered in the SpendingPulse analysis, gained six percent.

What's more, consumers enjoyed the experience, which is important for the future of online shopping.

According to annual the holiday report from customer satisfaction researcher ForeSee Results, retailers did a good job of making e-commerce customers happy at 2009's finish. The holiday edition of the ForeSee Results E-Retail Satisfaction Index "surged" seven percent to 79, a new all-time high, the researcher reported. An important aspect of that report is that an 80 has been the score that ForeSee identified as designating excellence in online customer service. That the 40 top e-commerce retailers followed by ForeSee flirted with that figure certainly suggests they have learned a lot about improving online shopping experiences.

Websites operated by Macy's (M), up 13 percent to 79, SonyStyle, up 10 percent to 77, Home Shopping Network (HSNI), up just over 10 percent to 76, Gap (GPS), up 10 percent to 76 and (OSTK), also up 10 percent to 76, posted the greatest increases in satisfaction year over year. Costco (COST), which gained just below 10 percent to 79, might as well be included in the most improved list, too.

Perennially in a leadership position, Amazon scored 87 over the holiday on a four percent gain to stand atop the ecommerce industry in customer satisfaction. It was followed by Netflix, up two percent to 86, and QVC, up five percent to 83.

Kevin Ertell, ForeSee Results vice president of retail strategy, said providing sharp prices helped boost customer satisfaction this year, but added that "prioritizing website improvements that customers value most" was critical to boosting scores.

So was Virginia, as it turns out. Although it expanded last year's online Yes Virginia campaign into a general marketing program this year, Macy's looks to have made it's ecommerce efforts sufficiently attractive to consumers to top 2009 customer satisfaction gainers.

While it was a good year for ecommerce websites, 2009 may represent, if not a breakthrough, then the establishment of a foundation for mobile commerce.

Reacting with satisfaction itself, eBay (EBAY) reported a surge in consumers tapping the company's iPhone app and other mobile applications to find deals on the go.

The number of items bought through eBay mobile applications this year tripled versus last, the company asserted. During 2009, buyers and sellers generated more than half a billion dollars in eBay mobile transactions, it said, with strong momentum continuing through this holiday season.

Almost six million people have eBay on their iPhone, the company stated, and, across applications, consumers are making 750,000 unique mobile visits a day to the auction site.

Mobile purchases in the recently concluded holidays ranged from designer handbags to a $75,000 1966 Chevrolet Corvette, eBay noted, which might stand as representative of the hard driving electronic commerce managed over the 2009 season.