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Crunched for time? Shop at these retailers

No matter how soothing the classical music may be, few things during the hectic holiday season are as frustrating as sitting on hold and waiting for a retailer to answer your call.

As a result, customer service analytics firm StellaService evaluated how quickly 40 major retailers answered shoppers' calls this Black Friday through Cyber Monday, by placing five calls to each company every day.

According to the results, bricks-and-mortar stores L.L.Bean, J.Crew and Saks led the pack over the four-day period, with L.L. Bean answering after an average of only nine seconds. In addition to those three names, online retailer Amazon was the only other company to rank in the top 10 on Black Friday, Cyber Weekend and Cyber Monday.

A number of retailers, including L.L.Bean, Crate & Barrel and Sephora, improved their speed compared to the pre-Black Friday period in November. Neiman Marcus, which saw answer times of 13 minutes earlier in the month, significantly cut down its time over Cyber Weekend to land in the top 10.

Neiman Marcus spokeswoman Ginger Reeder attributed the company's performance boost to hiring associates earlier in the season, so they would be more skilled at handling planned increases during peak times. She added that training was still going on in the beginning of the month.

"The improvement [among these retailers] is great, because the improvement says that they forecasted correctly," said Kevon Hills, vice president of research at StellaService.

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But it wasn't smooth sailing for all retailers. At Apple, one of StellaService's callers waited more than 15 minutes to reach an agent; at electronics store Newegg, only 55 percent of callers were able to get through within 20 minutes. (StellaService abandons the call after 20 minutes). GameStop did not answer any phone calls within the 20-minute timeframe on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

GameStop spokesman Joey Mooring said the company experienced a "significant increase" in customer calls during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend.

"At times there was an increase in wait time for calls, as we make it a priority to address and solve each customer issue that we receive," Mooring said. "As a result, some calls may take longer than others depending on the nature of the call."

None of these other retailers immediately returned a request for comment.

Best Buy, whose website suffered a series of outages over the Black Friday sales period, left one caller hanging for almost 18 minutes when its site was down on Friday morning. But the electronics chain picked things up over the remainder of the weekend, posting an average wait time of about four and a half minutes over those three days.

A screen showing Black Friday deals on Amazon.com
Source: Amazon.com
A screen showing Black Friday deals on Amazon.com

Overall, retailers were 43 seconds slower to come to the phone over Cyber Weekend than during the rest of November.

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"We expected some slowdown just depending on the volume," Hills said. "We do see retailers get bombarded with phone calls."

As the shift to online sends more people to the web—online sales from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday increased 12.6 percent, according to IBM—retailers' call centers are often subjected to heavier volume, Hills said. As a result, it's key for companies to make sure they are appropriately staffed, particularly when retailers are offering price-match guarantees. That means customer service is one way for them to stand out, Hills said.

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A separate study by StellaService found that over the holidays, 89 percent of shoppers are willing to walk away from a retailer when their customer service expectations aren't met, Hills said.

"People's patience level may be a lot thinner," he said. "Shoppers are willing to give retailers a break when it comes to speed of answer because they understand that it's busy…One thing they're not willing to waiver on is quality."

See below for a list of 10 retailers with the quickest answer times over Cyber Weekend.

Retailers with fastest call answer times

Rank
Retailer
Speed over Cyber Weekend
Speed month to date
1 L.L. Bean 9 seconds 35 seconds
2 J.Crew 25 seconds 17 seconds
3 Saks 34 seconds 39 seconds
4 Lands' End 42 seconds 42 seconds
5 Under Armour 47 seconds 47 seconds
6 Sephora 51 seconds 118 seconds
7 Amazon 52 seconds 53 seconds
7 Crate & Barrel 52 seconds 66 seconds
9 Estee Lauder 53 seconds 56 seconds
10 Neiman Marcus 54 seconds 142 seconds
Average 153 seconds 110 seconds
StellaService