Sentiment of the Week: Displeasure with Online Shopping Experiences

By: Dheepan Ramanan

March 5, 2015

CEM Programs
CEM Solutions
Customer Engagement
customer experience
customer experience management
Customer Feedback
Sentiment Analysis

The internet touches everything we do these days, but it took decades to advance from “you’ve got mail!” to “John, your Uber is arriving now.” Commerce, however, went digital from the very beginning – after all, “.com” was a domain originally reserved for commercial organizations. By some accounts, we’ve been shopping on the internet since 1991, but after 24 years, have online retailers perfected the process?

The answer is always relative, to be sure, but the resounding sentiment seems to be “no.” Not only have websites failed to replace brick-and-mortar locations, but thanks to superior IRL customer service, brands that sustain a strong physical presence actually maintain a far more favorable reputation among the buying public than retailers who exist solely on the World Wide Web.


To achieve a baseline reading, we used Clarabridge sentiment analytics to look at the common sentiment of four prominent department stores (each of which has both online and physical locations) and four major online-only retailers. Neiman Marcus is the most-liked brand overall in terms of positive comments and sentiment score, with 41% of all comments registering as positive. On the flip side, Macy’s is held in the (relatively) lowest esteem, with a -.23 overall sentiment score and the highest percentage of negative feedback. Revolve Clothing and Shopbop, online clothing sites that do not resell discount goods, have very high customer sentiment.


Store merchandise is the most common topic of discussion, commanding 34% of the conversation. The sentiment surrounding merchandise overall is very high, with a score of .84. Store efficiency is the second most popular theme, but that specific conversation carries a negative sentiment. Customer problem resolution experience is the third-most mentioned theme, and is also highly negative. Website usability is the fourth most mentioned theme – far down the list of customer concerns – and is negative overall.


As you can see in the chart above, website experience varies highly from brand to brand. Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom have more comments around website and in-store experience than Barneys, and both score highly with in-store experiences. However, both Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus experience a level of under performance compared to in-store customer sentiment.


Compared to retail department stores online retailers have more mentions of website usability, fulfillment and price/value comments. Fulfillment and Price/Value have worse sentiment among online retailers, which is particularly true of discount retailers like GILT, Rue La La, and Hautelook, whose customers are inherently price-conscious. Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus compare favorably to GILT and Rue La La in sentiment surrounding website usability. Fulfillment is the biggest issue with Hautelook, with 16% of all comments for this brand focused on this topic; the brand also had the worst sentiment in this topic amongst the brands studied.

Brand Comparisons

In general, the numbers bear out the idea that well-established brands – which are inherently among those in the brick-and-mortar category – still maintain the most positive sentiment amongst consumers. High-end retailers like Barney’s and Neiman Marcus have invested significant resources in maintaining their reputation, which results in a higher-quality customer service staff and a better customer experience overall. It’s this superior experience that helps these establishments overcome the majority of online shopping related issues. It also helps them hold off the emerging field of high-quality, online-only retailers – who without any experiential differentiators are more subject to negative sentiment related to merchandise quality, price, and the logistics of fulfillment.

So what actionable insights might be gleaned from a customer experience analysis like this? A sampling of Macy’s customer feedback yields these representative examples:

“When I went to finish online order, half the basket was unavailable.”

“The terrible customer service and apparent insensitive attitude toward it is patrons will eventually catch up to them.”

“I have tried repeatedly even with different gift cards.”

These quotes suggest that Macy’s would benefit from extra work on their checkout process, friendlier service, and streamlining the acceptance of gift cards to ensure gift that they work as a form of payment. Armed with these action items, Macy’s could expect to begin improving their brand sentiment incrementally as they identify and eliminate points of customer consternation.

For more information on delivering a superior online shopping experience, download our cheat sheet below.


Dheepan Ramanan is a data scientist at Clarabridge. Follow him on Twitter @DheepanRamanan.