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Northern Tool leads home channel in e-commerce consumer survey

Home channel retailers have room for online improvement, according to the results of a consumer survey from e-commerce research firm ForeSee Results.

The average customer satisfaction score for home channel companies, 71.3, was a few points below that of the top 100 e-commerce sites on the ForeSee list. Still, retailers in the channel are taking steps to keep up with the online times.

Ranking highest was northerntool.com , the e-commerce site for Minneapolis-based Northern Tool & Equipment, with a customer service score of 74 out of 100. Comparatively, highest ranking commerce sites netflix.com and qvc.com each scored 85 out of 100.

“We train our people who do our Internet service to answer questions,” said Northern Tool CEO Don Kotula. “If we keep getting a question repeatedly, we’ll put the answer right there so people can see it.”

For Northern Tool, online business has grown steadily at about 10 percent to 15 percent per year in the past few years. In 2006, the company made more than $100 million in Web sales, Kotula said.

He also said the Northern Tool Web site allows consumers to offer opinions on products they’ve purchased, as well as suggestions, such as alternate uses for a product that the user found effective. The Web site also offers “really relevant” suggestions on complementary products to a purchase, such as a safety device or a blade sharpener when a customer buys a chainsaw.

“We also look at categories and highlight for a (returning) customer, ‘here’s what’s new in your category,’” he said. Therefore, landscaping and gardening enthusiasts see new products in their realm, while ATV or hunting enthusiasts see products relevant to them.

“With new products, it’s really important that the product is interesting. If we have some new brown socks for example, and we had some kind of brown socks before, we’re not going to put that up there,” Kotula said.

In the customer service rankings, Northern Tool is followed by sears.com (72), lowes.com (70) and homedepot.com (69). Mass retailers fared slightly better, including target.com (76) and walmart.com (75), followed by specialty retailers williamssonoma.com (75) and crateandbarrel.com (73).

Other home channel companies not on the ForeSee list are taking steps, as well.

Dave Werden is senior Web develper for Rockler, a 35-location chain of independent hardware stores catering primarily to professional woodworkers. The company saw its online conversion rates go up 10 percent after adding a search feature that was more detailed and intuitive.

“Instead of looking for a long time, they can search directly for a [model number], or look over some different variables to find the right item quickly,” he said.

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