High usability and customer service marks earned Continental Airlines the No. 1 spot in the Airlines category, the latest addition to Forrester PowerRankings announced today by Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). Forrester PowerRankings combine survey data from online consumers, rigorous shopping-experience tests, and unbiased expert analysis to provide objective rankings of the leading eCommerce sites. Following Continental Airlines in the rankings were: Northwest Airlines, US Airways, United Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and America West Airlines.

In addition to unsurpassed ease-of-use, Continental is one of the few airline sites to integrate hotel and rental car reservations into the ticketing process. Continental’s top-performing site was complemented by fast and thorough responses to email inquiries. Running a close second, Northwest backs its robust ticketing features with the best customer service in the category to offer a superior flight status checker.

US Airways earned third place by simplifying special meal orders, seat selection, and ticket delivery options. However, poor navigation features impacted the overall score. United came in fourth with its automatic lowest-fare finder but earned low scores on the service front. Despite its industry leadership, American landed fifth place, offering limited features for general bookers.

“Because most travelers only take two or three trips a year, it’s hard for airlines to gauge whether they are satisfying a customer enough to bring them back the next time,” stated James L. McQuivey, Technographics® research director at Forrester. “Our PowerRankings clearly show that the leading airlines are building sites worth returning to.”

Most of the remaining four sites stood out in only one scoring bracket. Alaska Airlines ranked sixth, with high usability scores combined with inconsistent email and phone responses. Ticket-booking is simple on the Southwest site, earning it seventh place, but it lacks basic features like viewing booked itineraries and customer service email. Although Delta’s site offers quality customer service, basic navigation flaws like inconsistent menu bars and a clunky reservations interface brought the sitedown to eighth place. America West earned low scores across the board and thus, last place. An upgrade should eliminate obstacles like non-intuitive menu options that make existing features less accessible to the user.

Forrester PowerRankings use consumer survey data and rigorous shopping tests to evaluate the leading eCommerce sites. To find out where online consumers are shopping and what their experiences have been, Forrester asked 9,600 members of Greenfield Online’s 400,000-person online panel to evaluate the sites they have most recently shopped. These experiences are tested by a team of Forrester shoppers who anonymously shop the sites identified in the survey, objectively scoring them along six dimensions that mirror the criteria in the consumer survey. The consumer survey data and Forrester shopper scores are then combined and weighted to produce a score that emphasizes the features consumers deem most important.

Forrester PowerRankings are currently available for online brokerages and eight major retail categories: Airlines; Apparel; Books, Music, & Video; Computing; General Merchandise; Health; Flowers; and Toys & Games. Forrester plans to add more categories to PowerRankings in 2000. Additional information about each of the categories, including a complete set of rankings and scores, can be found at the PowerRankings Web site — http://powerrankings.forrester.com.