By Jessica Wohl
(Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc remained the best website for shopping online while JC Penney Co Inc suffered the largest drop in customer satisfaction of any major online retailer this holiday season, according to a survey released on Thursday.
Flash sale sites Gilt.com and RueLaLa.com were among the worst performers in online shopping satisfaction this season, according to ForeSee's Holiday E-Retail Satisfaction Index.
"The importance of satisfying them and giving a great consumer experience is going to pay back huge dividends in terms of profitability for these retailers," said Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer of ForeSee, which measures customer satisfaction for companies, including retailers.
Amazon has held the highest score in each of the eight years of the index, due in part to the wide variety of merchandise it offers and a site that is easy to use.
"They've really done a great job in setting the standard for everybody else," Freed said of Amazon.
Amazon's score was again 88 out of 100, while Gilt.com and Fingerhut.com shared the lowest score of 72. LLBean.com had the second-highest ranking, 85, up 4 points from a year earlier.
A score of 80 or higher is considered strong, Freed said.
JC Penney's score fell to 78 from 83.
"They've struggled a lot in their stores as they've tried to reinvent themselves a bit and that's carried over a little bit to the website," Freed said.
Other retailers that saw their ForeSee satisfaction scores drop included Apple Inc - down to 80 from 83 - and Dell Inc, which fell to 77 from 80.
At Apple, as the popular tech company has brought out more products, navigating the site has become more of an issue, said Freed. Improving the functionality of the site would give it the biggest boost, he said.
No. 1 U.S. retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which is trying to grow its online sales, scored a 78 for its Walmart.com website, down from 79 in 2011. Rival Target Corp's website scored 79, up from 76 last year, when it had some struggles after taking over control of the site from Amazon.
As for those flash sale sites coming in at the low end of the scores, Freed noted that some are trying to grow beyond the premise of flash sales, which offer a limited amount of marked down merchandise at specific times.
"It works for some kinds of consumers, it's not going to work for every kind of consumer," said Freed. "Their models today are going to work and they're going to have a chance to be successful, but at the end of the day it's not the right answer for everybody."
ForeSee's 2012 report was based on more than 24,000 surveys collected from visitors to websites of the 100 largest online retailers from Thanksgiving to Christmas, up from 40 retail sites in prior years.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)