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Retailers’ new ecommerce sites fall short: analyst

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The new online stores of Zara, H&M and Gap are “inadequate and jeopardise customer loyalty,” according to respected technology analyst Ovum.

Christine Bardwell, senior analyst at Ovum, says quality has suffered in the haste to launch into the UK market.

“In the last-minute competitive rush to launch an online store, the retailers have failed to take the customer experience into account and are jeopardising customer loyalty,” she said.

“Basic and vital functions such as search have not been included. Consumers now expect search functionality. Without it, the retailers are not optimising the sales potential of their online stores.”

She said all three brands had also failed to adapt their sites to local markets fully. Zara, for example had not localised address formats while Gap did not offer local clothes sizes.

““At this stage of online market maturity, by overlooking items such as this they run the risk of loyal customers defecting to the competition,” said Bardwell.

She believes all three have been late to launch their virtual stores because of the complexity of managing fast-fashion supply chains worldwide.

“Until now, the risk associated with the cost of fulfillment has until now been a big enough reason for them to sit back and watch how the online market develops,” she said.

According to research by Ovum’s sister company Verdict, online sales of clothing and footwear in the UK alone are expected to reach £3.2 billion in 2010, making it the third biggest online market behind electricals and food and grocery.

Bardwell believes it is this growth that has prompted Gap, Zara and H&M to rush take a slice of the pie, especially as it is predicted to slow between now and 2014.

She added: “This rush has meant some fundamentally crucial elements to making sales from visitors have been dismissed.”

A spokesperson for H&M said: “We are happy with the launch of Shop Online for the UK and being able to to offer our customers a higher level of service by giving everyone the opportunity to shop from H&M in the UK, no matter whether there is a shop nearby, as well as giving our customers the possibility to shop from H&M around the clock.

“At H&M we strive to constantly improve in everything that we do, and these comments are of course features that we are also looking into for our online shop for the future.”

Inditex, owner of Zara, declined to comment while Gap was not available for comment.

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