In a surprise outcome, established brokers — not dot-com startups — swept the top five places in the first ever Forrester PowerRankings announced today by Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). Schwab, Merrill Lynch, DLJdirect, Fidelity, and TD Waterhouse took top honors, outpacing relative newcomers Datek Online, E*TRADE, Ameritrade, Discover Brokerage Direct, and SURETRADE. The PowerRankings — combining survey data from online consumers, rigorous shopping-experience tests, and unbiased expert analysis — provide objective rankings of the leading eCommerce sites.

“Up to now, Schwab has been setting the pace in online brokerage. Merrill, though, is a bolt from the blue,” said Bill Doyle, Online Financial Services research director at Forrester. “Eight months ago, Merrill wasn’t even in the online trading game. But online customers love the advice and the transaction confidence they get from Merrill. It’s like the American comeback at the Ryder Cup: The experienced, heavily favored players are making their charge.”

Merrill Lynch was held back only by the high cost of its online trading accounts. Today, the only option available is a wrap fee account with a minimum annual charge of $1,500.

Schwab topped the PowerRankings with its category-leading scores in site usability, feature depth, and market information. When combined with a vast array of products and competent customer service, Schwab’s strengths powered it past all other online brokers.

Other established brokerages proffer strong online experiences as well. DLJdirect‘s easy site navigation and overall value propelled it into third despite weak scores on features and advice. Fourth-place Fidelity’s abundant advisory tools and wide array of products — attractive to mainstream investors — were offset by its mediocre customer service. TD Waterhouse scored well with its low commissions, deep product range, and solid customer service — but the site’s poor design and performance prevented it from placing higher than fifth.

Among the dot-com brokerages, sixth-place Datek Online delivers fast, reliable, and cheap trades but comes up short in features and usability. Meanwhile, E*TRADE’s slick trading process and competitive prices are overshadowed by the category’s worst customer service. Despite great value and responsive customer service, Ameritrade lacks the features and clean navigation of a top-rank online brokerage. Discover Brokerage Direct and SURETRADE brought up the bottom of the pack.

Forrester PowerRankings use consumer survey data from Greenfield Online’s 400,000-person online panel to identify the most popular eCommerce sites. The online shopping experience for each site is then evaluated by a team of Forrester shoppers who perform a series of rigorous tests in eight areas. The Forrester shoppers’ experience and the consumer data are then synthesized to generate an overall PowerRanking.

Forrester PowerRankings are currently available for online brokerages and seven major retail categories: Apparel; Books, Music, & Video; Computing; General Merchandise; Health; Flowers; and Toys & Games. Forrester plans to add more categories to PowerRankings in the weeks ahead. Additional information about each of the categories, including a complete set of rankings and scores, can be found at the PowerRankings Web site —