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Online problems could deter customers

Annoy customers online and you may lose business at your brick-and-mortar store, a new report finds.

    Annoy customers online and you may lose business at your brick-and-mortar store.

    Some 70 percent of online buyers would spend less money at a traditional retailer after having a bad experience with the retailer's online site, according to a report from Jupiter Media Metrix released on Wednesday. Yet many retailers haven't yet set up their computer or logistical systems to offer the service that customers expect, the research company reported.

    "Online commerce is not going away," said David Daniels, a Jupiter analyst who studies customer relations management. "Hopefully this will be a call to action to companies to shore up their online service as well as their offline service initiatives."

    Traditional retailers have faced a host of problems as they've come online in recent years.

    Wal-Mart, for example, suffered several outages during the holiday season last year and shut down its Web site completely for more than a month in order to re-launch it. Toys ?R? Us had numerous problems setting up its Web site before finally teaming up with Amazon.com last September.

    The report indicated that consumers want retailers' offline stores to be able to handle their online customer service issues.

    Some 83 percent of online buyers would like to be able to return purchases made online to companies' offline stores, the report indicates. And 95 percent of buyers said they would sometimes make returns of goods purchased online to offline stores. However, only 18 percent of retailers allow this option.

    Some 67 percent expect employees at a retailers' brick-and-mortar store to be able to view their online purchase information. But, according to the survey, only 18 percent of retailers have this capability.

    Companies' outdated customer relations management (CRM) systems are partially to blame for their not being able to meet customer expectations, Daniels said. Although many retailers keep data on their online customers, few have integrated that information into their records of offline purchases. Companies such as Wal-Mart and Target are upgrading their systems this year.

    But the bigger problem that companies face is with their corporate culture, Daniels said. Many companies viewed their online initiatives as a separate business, with a separate budget and management structure. The companies that have been the most successful at meeting customer expectations online and off considered the Internet as simply another way to reach customers, he said.