Survey: Barely Half Of E-Mails To Major Retailers Receive Adequate Responses

If you’ve ever written an e-mail to a retailer and either never received a reply or received one that did not adequately answer your question, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a new survey, retailers only provided complete responses to customers’ e-mails 54% of the time.

Undercover e-mailers for retail researcher STELLAService spent 45 days sending a total of 1,125 emails to 25 of the largest retailers in the U.S.

The questions were not even complicated complaints that would require research or a thoughtful response. Instead, they were basic questions, such as “is this certain pair of shoes available in the color red and in a size six?”

All that was required of retailers to receive a passing grade was to answer both questions in the e-mail fully.

Topping the list of quality responders was LLBean.com, which provided complete answers to 88.9% of customer e-mails. Gap.com came in second with 84%, followed by Zappos.com (75%), and VictoriasSecret.com and TigerDirect.com (70.4% each).

While many of the 25 companies used automated replies that just directed people to their websites’ help pages, Zappos and four other retailers — Amazon, Macys.com, OfficeMax.com, and Walmart.com — were lauded for responding with e-mails that went beyond mere scripted responses.

STELLAService gives the example of a customer who e-mailed Zappos to ask about if/when the original royal blue Snuggie would become available again on the site. Rather than merely shrugging and pointing the customer to a different product, the Zappos e-mail actually included a link to another retailer where the product was currently available.

“Customers love the ease and practicality of email, but it is clear from our research that retailers are not being diligent about quality replies,” STELLAService CEO Jordy Leiser explains. “In order to meet the needs and expectations of their customers, it’s time for retailers to deliver the same level of quality when communicating with customers via email as they do on the phone.”

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  1. Blueskylaw says:

    E-mails cost the company money in terms of physical service costs and the costs of refunds that irate customers are typically demanding in an e-mail. It’s a disturbing trend where companies give you a venue to vent your rage, but don’t do anything about it since you didn’t exactly talk to anybody on the phone.

    In before Coffee, LOL

    • smo0 says:

      There are plenty of situations where an email is appropriate rather than talking to someone on the phone.
      There are companies where certain departments don’t take customer service calls at all, it’s strictly email.

      Being an employee of Apple, I can tell you anything iTunes related is strictly email – the technical support/Apple Care/Customer Service advisers can’t help you with any of that.

      • polishhillbilly says:

        I’d rather talk to a human. preferably not “Bob” in India_na.
        Certain things can be handled via web interface, talking to a knowledgeable human is always better.

    • Coffee says:

      The picture for this article is me right now.

    • SimonJ says:

      Being deaf I can use NRS or email, I usually choose email, and I always choose the company that gives the best response.

      • carlogesualdo says:

        The Relay operators don’t want to talk to “Bob” in India either. But for you, whatever you want. :) (Sucks when they keep hanging up on you because they think you’re a telemarketer, right?)

  2. frank64 says:

    It happens all the time. It is almost like a bot, but I think they quickly look for keywords and then click on a few canned choices. Sometimes 3 or 4 followups end up helping me out. I remember it happening with Citibank Credit Cards. It is normally easier to call, sometimes they tell you do do that anyway.

  3. smo0 says:

    I’ve written tons of emails with no response outside of the automated, “we’ve received your email,” response.
    I’ve also sent in tips to you guys via email and the website with no response.

    I suppose you aren’t immune either.

    • tbax929 says:

      That’s interesting. I’ve always gotten replies to my submissions to Consumerist. That may be because they’ve run the three things I’ve sent them; I’m not sure.

  4. gman863 says:

    The last time I sent an e-mail on horrible service involved Ritz Camera: When I went in their Stafford, TX location two years ago the clerk treated me like shit. Although I explained I was looking for both a replacement DLSR camera and HD camcorder to replace ones that had been stolen from my house a few months earlier, she wouldn’t even let me hold or try out the models I was interested in.

    Three weeks later, I received a voice mail with a profuse apology from the DM, stating that, if I came back to Ritz, he’d meet me personally and “work out” a great price on what I was looking for.

    If he had called after three days, he might have had a shot. Three weeks, too late: I already was playing with my new toys from Amazon.

  5. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    The fundamental paradox is that if you write a short email, then the customer service person thinks you must not have done any research and that you can probably figure it out on your own. But if you write a long email (e.g. “I looked here, here, and here, and also tried searching for this, and my computer is indeed plugged in and turned on, and I verified my internet service is working by going to a different site also, and last time I was here I had no problem….”) then now your email is too long and no one will read it.

    Bottom line: No emails get answered.

  6. Sarek says:

    The compound question is difficult for the bots (whether human or not). In the response, they restate your first question, ignore the 2nd, and provide an answer to a 3rd that you didn’t ask. If you ever get a response, that is.

    I have a different problem with not-for-profits: those emails just go into a black hole.

  7. Emerald4me says:

    Best picture ever!

  8. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    My office mate answers consumer questions for our company’s website, and she loves to show me the emails when they come in. Just my opinion here, as I only know what our consumers write, if you’re not getting an answer, your question is too generic. People ask things like, “when did my order ship?”, but don’t give the name on the order (their email address won’t bring up a match if they’re emailing from work and they provided their home email on the online order), the order number, or any other detail we can use. Or “do you have a blue gown?” Which style? What brand?

    She’s never shown me an overly worded email. Most of them don’t have enough info to be helpful.

    • tbax929 says:

      If the person has sent the question via e-mail, couldn’t she just reply to ask for the additional information she needs? That seems to make more sense than just ignoring an e-mail.

      • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

        She does ask for more information, and then waits for the reply – and you wouldn’t believe some of the replies. Like, “why can’t you just look up my order?”, again, without the info. It’s a facepalm scenario time and time again. I’ve often told her it seems many of our customers should have their internet licenses revoked.

        • tbax929 says:

          Haha. That’s funny. I wish I could just get mine to stop calling to make sure I received the e-mail they just sent me. I want to shout: “TRUST THE TECHNOLOGY!” But I enjoy being employed, so I don’t.

          • GrayMatter says:

            Well, I have a similar problem with emails, only it is with personal communications. My daughter only checks her emails every so often; I sent her an important document. Until I called and texted her did she actually look at it.

            So, a phone call to see if they got the email is not so rediculous.

            And, there are regularly occasions when emails get hung up in the intertubes; ATT seemed to regularly do that.

    • Consumer7859 says:

      I’ve been in customer service for nearly 10 years and your experience is EXACTLY the kind of experience I’ve had with customers at multiple companies.

      Everyone loves to complain about customer service. And companies love to say “…provide our customers superior service that exceeds customer expectations.” Ha! If I hear the “exceeds customer expectations” phrase one more time, I’m going to gag.

      Customers often have unrealistic expectations. They’re exceptionally rude, believing the fallacy that because they’re the customer A) they’re always right and B) don’t have to adhere to common courtesy and decency.

      I’m a professional and WANT to give my customers good service. I DO do my best and have often gone over someone’s head or to another department to help a customer.

      Unfortunately, I no longer believe in the basic intelligence of Joe Public. (And that’s putting it nicely!) They’re rude and demanding. They lie with impunity — all the time. (Yes, we can see your account and can see you’re flat out lying.) They flat out refuse to give basic information like account numbers, order numbers, etc. so we can help resolve their issue, then get huffy when we tell them we can’t help them without it.

      They don’t know how to do simple tasks like flip a circuit breaker (to restore power) or disconnect and reconnect power and coaxial cables (for cable TV service) and refuse to even try, then demand a technician. Then they scream bloody murder if they’re going to be charged for the dispatch because they refused to troubleshoot in the first place.

      And don’t get me started on the customers who can’t even describe their problem coherently, yet get irritated when it’s not fixed in 5 minutes! Grrrr!

      I no longer have sympathy for the consumer. If you want me to sympathize, you’ll have to PROVE that the company truly “done you wrong” and you made a calm and reasonable effort (including effort on YOUR part) to help get it resolved.

    • Will Print T-shirts For Food says:

      This!

  9. Krazycalvin says:

    This sounds like a personal problem. Any normal person out there would understand that they had gotten a lifetime of use out of the showerhead over that ten year period and write off the 40 bucks it takes to get the fancy model with the frills.

  10. RobotEmbryo says:

    I work for a major retailer, in a business to business division. This headline is of no surprise to me, as barely half of my emails to other departments or contacts at the corporate level receive adequate responses; in fact I would say default competencies and follow-through on anything are set somewhere between inadequate and incompetent. Support local small businesses at any opportunity.

  11. NorthAlabama says:

    with the cost of operating a call center, you think that retailers would rather customers use online chat or email for correspondence. it’s a plus for the customer too, if you don’t need an immediate answer, there’s no waiting on hold or calling during business hours.

    my experience with email and chat with companies has been so negative, i will never use the services again. i generally receive a form letter response that barely references my issue, if at all. so, i end up calling anyway. what a waste of money, time and resources, for which we all pay.

  12. Warren - the Original Chocolate Cake with Eyes! says:

    Best photo match to an article EVER.

  13. Extended-Warranty says:

    As much as I HATE receiving a canned response, I think it would also be interesting to see how many consumers send worthless emails, ruining it for everyone.

    • Will Print T-shirts For Food says:

      I receive about 100 emails daily for my company from customers/potential customers. I ignore about 20 of them, forward about 5 of them to other coworkers since I do not know the answer to that email, and reply adequately to the other 75.

      The ones that don’t get replied to generally go like this:
      -Do you sell [insert an unrelated product to my business]?
      -You need to give me a bigger discount because I buy your stuff wholesale and you are cutting into my profits.
      -Why is shipping not free? [I hate this one... major retailers have fooled everyone into thinking shipping is free!]
      -I hate you and your company and I hope you die because I ordered something on Tuesday for my wedding on Wednesday and I didn’t receive it on time and I didn’t read your shipping policy.
      -Can you ship my order to Ghana please? I will use an American credit card for my large purchase.

  14. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Personally I find it incredible that 54% were answered adequately. Based on personal experience, I’d have guessed at less than 10%.

  15. Will Print T-shirts For Food says:

    I don’t get replies from Consumerist either.

  16. dwasifar says:

    I’m more interested in knowing who the worst offenders were, so we can avoid them.

  17. AttackCat says:

    Victoria’s Secret has always been really helpful. They really seem like they want to solve your problem in the best way possible.

    iTunes is a joke. Once they have your money, they have no qualms about ignoring your problem or pulling the “it’s your fault” card.

  18. thenutman69321 says:

    I haven’t emailed a ton of big companies but I have a few times. Every single time is is some generic email that doesn’t answer my question whatsoever.

  19. donovanr says:

    Nearly 100% of my complimentary emails have been warmly received. Nearly 100% of my complaint emails have been ignored or form letter’d. I suspect it is an overall sign of the quality of the company, in that companies prone to good emails are good companies that respect their customers and crappy companies that don’t.

  20. PragmaticGuy says:

    “It’s time for retailers to deliver the same level of quality when communicating with customers via email as they do on the phone.” In other words NO quality and I’ll have to start keying my way through internet trees to get to the right party.

  21. carlogesualdo says:

    I don’t ask questions that can be answered using a site’s FAQ or knowledge base. My questions are always more complicated than that. Cox Cable and Overstock are the WORST at providing a proper response to an email or a chat. However, Cox is pretty incredible with phone support.