For the second year in a row, B&H, The Home Depot and Zappos are among the top honorees.

With the click of a mouse or a tap of a finger, consumers can easily cruise from one e-retail site to another to shop for the products they want. With an abundance of competitors selling the same or similar goods, some e-retailers are choosing to distinguish themselves with the level of service they offer consumers—be it lightning-quick delivery, easily accessible customer care or making checkout a breeze.

The e-retailers doing it best, according to a mystery shopping evaluation conducted of 100 retailers during the fourth quarter by Astound Commerce, in alphabetical order and shown with their Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 rank, are:

“These companies nail all the elements of customer service,” says Lauren Freedman, senior vice president of digital strategy and chief merchant of Astound Commerce (formerly The E-tailing Group). “They are vigilant in the information they provide and in their execution.”

Astound Commerce’s 20th Anniversary Mystery Shopping Study evaluated retailers on such parameters as the visibility of a toll-free customer service number, shipping speed (the average was 3.45 days, unchanged from a year earlier) and the number of clicks it takes to complete checkout (the average was 5.23, an increase from 4.96 a year ago).

It also evaluated how quickly e-retailers responded to customer service inquiries sent via email. In that part of the evaluation, mystery shoppers found a drop in the number of retailers supporting email inquiries, with 88% of e-retailers offering email support in the fourth quarter of 2016 versus 94%  offering it a year earlier. E-retailers that have eliminated email customer service include Macy’s Inc. (No. 6 in the Top 500), which offers telephone support only; Target Corp. (No. 22), which offers telephone and live chat; Kohl’s Corp. (No. 19), which offers telephone and live chat; and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 4), which offers live chat and a way for customers to submit their phone numbers to receive a call from a customer service agent.


Freedman says e-retailers have to choose where to put their resources and which service channels they wish to support. If a consumer sends an email inquiry to customer service, she expects the e-retailer to reply in a reasonable amount of time. If an e-retailer can’t handle the volume or respond appropriately, it will want to invest in the channels it can support, Freedman says. “It’s better to not offer it than offer it and do a poor job of it,” she says.

While fewer e-retailers are offering email customer support, the e-retailers that do offer it are responding more quickly than before. The average response time was 20 hours and 17 minutes in the fourth quarter, an improvement from an average of 26 hours and 30 minutes a year earlier.

For more on how e-retailers seek to distinguish themselves with service, read “The new sales associate” from the February 2017 issue of Internet Retailer magazine. Subscribe here.