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AS WITH ANY YEAR, the onset of the holiday season brings dreams of sugar plums and dollar signs dancing in the heads of retail shop owners. And dot-com shopkeepers have begun filling their stockings with a fair share of those dollars.
Given this year's expected surge in online holiday sales, Web merchants are gearing up to open their virtual doors to electronic-commerce neophytes making the leap to online purchasing for the first time.
With that in mind, online retailers are scrambling to ensure the most positive customer experience possible, knowing that they may have only one shot at gaining a lifelong customer. Blowing that chance is likely to result in a nightmare before Christmas.
"A satisfied customer tells one person, and an unhappy person tells seven," says Stephen Polley, chairman and CEO of Cozone.com, the online shopping arm of CompUSA, in Marlboro, Mass. "With the Web, you can make that number 7,000."
Knowing that customer service is the key to retaining buyers on the Web, companies are sinking millions into enhancing every step of the buying process for consumers. From Web site design and navigational ability, all the way through to post-sale follow-up and return policies, online vendors are whipping their sites into shape, knowing that they are dealing with a different type of customer this year.
"I think that the customer service expectation will be higher than it ever has been," says Jonas Lee, CEO of Giftcertificates.com, in New York. "People expect the best when they go on the Web."
Setting up the sale
Much of the discussion about boosting …