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Heinz scores big in a customer service taste test. But e-commerce companies, including Amazon, are outranking their brick-and-mortar counterparts when it comes to pleasing customers, a study shows.

Led by and eBay, e-commerce companies outrank their brick-and-mortar counterparts when it comes to pleasing customers, according to a new study.

The study, published Tuesday by the University of Michigan, indicated that customer satisfaction among major e-commerce sites rose an average of 6 percent from the previous year, leading to some of the highest customer service ratings among major U.S. companies.

Amazon achieved the highest score ever awarded to the 185 U.S. companies evaluated annually by the university, with 88 out of 100 points. The only other company to score as high is condiment maker Heinz, said Larry Freed, chief executive of Foresee Results, a co-sponsor of the study.,,, Expedia, Orbitz and Charles Schwab all scored above the national average as well. The study ranked, uBid and E*Trade below average.

Foresee, a private e-commerce consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., said none of the companies ranked in the latest report are among its clients.

In general, the new study showed that major consumer-oriented Internet businesses, including online retailers, travel sites and stock brokerage firms, have a higher-than-average level of customer satisfaction, beating out traditional companies in other sectors such as banking, airlines, telecommunications and retail.

Not surprisingly, the airlines scored among industries with the lowest average customer satisfaction, according to Freed.

One reason for the improving scores among e-commerce companies may be the intense scrutiny that's inherent to the medium, Freed said.

"Bad news spreads faster online," Freed said. "So these companies are held accountable for poor customer satisfaction in a much quicker and broader scale."

Another reason e-commerce companies may exceed customer expectations is due to a growing preference for virtual shopping, which can offer easier bargain hunting, around-the-clock service, and more consistent service than in-store shopping typically does, Freed said.

The University of Michigan Business School undertook the study late last year at its National Quality Research Center, conducting interviews with more than 4,000 people and ranking 12 individual companies.

Survey participants were asked to rate the companies on a scale of one to 10 for product quality, service quality, loyalty to the company, and several other criteria. The university compiled the results as part of its American Customer Satisfaction Index.