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Merchant Madness

BY CSA STAFF

The peak of the shopping season has come and gone, but some retailers better prepared their online stores for holiday traffic than others.

This was seen in the results of the first annual “Merchant Madness” tournament, sponsored by Gomez, a Lexington, Mass.-based provider of on-demand Web application experience-management solutions. Gomez’s “Merchant Madness” measured the Web performance of the top 64 retailers (based on revenue) from Internet Retailer Magazine’s Top 500. The retailers, which were split into apparel, electronics, mass merchant and specialty categories, were monitored between Oct. 29 and Nov. 26—Cyber Monday.

Much like the National Basketball Association’s annual “March Madness” bracket competition, the 64 hottest online retailers were paired up against each other—battling other merchants in the Sweet 16, down to the Final Four—until there was one winner. Dallas-based Block-buster ultimately emerged victorious, beating Overstock.com in a final battle.

“Our intent is to provide customers with convenient access to media entertainment across multiple channels. Ensuring that our online channel is available and performs well is a crucial part of that promise,” Aaron Coleman, senior VP, Blockbuster Online, told Chain Store Age. “The recognition we have received from Gomez as delivering ‘best in class’ service in this channel is very rewarding. It makes us proud to know that we are delivering a consistent customer experience.”

So how did Blockbuster stand out against the top online retailers? First, Merchant Madness results were based on data extracted from Gomez’s Retail Benchmark which, using Gomez’s global testing network, gauges the performance of retailer’s home pages. The crowned winner was the retailer that delivered the fastest, most available and most consistent Web-site performance during the November online shopping season.

Gomez tested all participating retailers’ site availability, the percentage of completed transactions, response time while downloading a page, and consistency of the response time for completed transactions. Then each online retailer was ranked, from 1 through 64, in those categories. The winner of the overall head-to-head match-up was the online retailer with the lowest cumulative ranking score.

The semifinals, which took place during the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend, pitted Zappos and Blockbuster, and Overstock and REI against each other. Finally, Overstock and Blockbuster were left standing and faced off in the final round on Cyber Monday.

“The ‘Merchant Madness’ tournament really went down to the wire,” said Matt Poepsel, VP of performance strategies for Gomez. “Despite the fact that Blockbuster and Overstock have very different business models and Web sites, both delivered high standards of user experience in each bracket match-up, in every round of the competition. The tournament presents no real margin for error. Even a single bad day can eliminate a site. Blockbuster and Overstock outlasted the other 62.”

Although some retailers faired well in the holiday heat, Costco —which was kicked out in the first round against Macy’s—experienced significant trouble on Cyber Monday. “The site was technically 100% available that day, but the overall response time slowed 9 to 10 times compared to the normal levels during the midday hours when the West Coast came online,” Poepsel explained.

Research has shown that few online shoppers are willing to wait more than six seconds for a site to download and, at times, Costco’s site was significantly slower than this, he added. Toysrus.com and TigerDirect.com also had performance problems on Cyber Monday.

Retailers need to test critical e-commerce platforms early, often and from the end-user’s point of view, Poepsel said.

“Like Overstock and Blockbuster, retailers need to heed the mantra: ‘Deliver an excellent experience to every user, every time.’”

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