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Store Names Wal-Mart, Safeway, Lowes Drive Consumers to Online Shopping

Many traditional retailers hope that their websites will drive consumers to stores and build their established brand because, although appreciative of the income Internet-based commerce provides, they have fixed investments in real estate and marketing they want to leverage.

However, in some cases, it's the store and established brand that are driving consumers to the web purchasing.

According to ForeSee Results, Wal-Mart is an example of a retailer whose established business is driving online sales. The effect can be determined by comparing its online sales satisfaction score to consumer purchasing intent. In the research firm's just released spring 2009 study of the Top 100 online retailers, Wal-Mart's customer satisfaction score for web-based sales was 77 on the 100-point scale ForeSee uses, up two points over 2008. However, its purchase intent score was 90, which makes for a 13 point spread. In ForeSee's mass market category, only Costco with a satisfaction score of 74, also up two points, and a purchasing intent score of 87 equals Wal-Mart's. Target comes close with a 12-points spread between satisfaction of 75, up two points again, and purchase intent of 87. Another interesting point: Wal-Mart's purchasing intent score of 90 is only equaled by Amazon.

Overall, only two retailers beat Wal-Mart's spread, Safeway and Lowe's, with 14-point gaps. Safeway posted a satisfaction rating of 70 this year â€" year-earlier score not available -- and a intent rating of 84 while Lowe's, satisfaction 72, was flat versus a year ago, with an intent rating of 86. Coincidentally, only two retailers tied Wal-Mart, CVS, satisfaction rating 71, down six points, and intent rating 84, and Home Depot, satisfaction rating 70, up one point, and intent rating 83.

In some ways, comparing Wal-Mart and other mass merchants to retailers in differing categories is comparing apples to oranges. Safeway, for example, has a grocery delivery link on its website and drug chains have services such as online prescription refills that are central to their operations. As for home centers, they provide website elements dedicated to commercial accounts. Yet, in each case, the companies with intent scores significantly surpassing satisfaction have firmly established brands and dynamic store operations, which might not seem to be an advantage in online selling but turns out to be.

Larry Freed, ForeSee president and CEO, said research demonstrates that customer satisfaction scores anticipate sales trends, so better scores mean better future online sales. Despite the sometimes difference between what folks say and what they do, Freed said follow up studies indicate that purchase intent also is "strongly predictive" of future sales.

Overall, the ForeSee Results study of the Top 100 demonstrated disappointment with the shopping experience on a lot of websites. Even some top performers, those scoring 80 or above, had significant declines. Although it remains in the elite, QVC fell from an 84 to an 81. Among the worst performers in the study, etronics had the most significant decline, falling from 71 to 63. Other web retailers seeing especially significant declines included Apple, which lost elite status when it fell from 80 to 75. William-Sonoma and Talbots both fell from 78 to 73 while Blockbuster fell from 77 to 72 and Neiman Marcus fell from 75 to 70.

One reason for satisfaction fall off, said Freed, is that price has become a more significant factor in the online shopping experience surpassing measures like ease of website navigation. In this economy, bells and whistles don't necessarily satisfy but price does, and it's worth noting that Wal-Mart, Target and Costco all enjoyed satisfaction bumps.

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