An easy-to-use site and helpful customer service help propel QVC to the top of the General Merchandise category of the latest PowerRankings by Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). Forrester PowerRankings combine survey data from online consumers and unbiased shopping tests to provide objective rankings of the leading eCommerce sites in various categories. Following QVC are,, Wal-Mart, and J.C. Penney.

QVC finishes No. 1, propelled by the highest scores for usability, transacting, and customer service. The site is easy to navigate and displays shipping costs next to product descriptions. Its greatest weakness is missing basic features like an address book and gift-wrapping. Second-place garnered high marks for a simple return process and a multitude of features like its 1-Click express checkout, a robust address book, and automated product recommendations. But Amazon can frustrate shoppers with sluggish email replies, above-average shipping charges, and no real-time inventory information.

“QVC finished first or second in every category from usability to cost to customer service,” said Tom Rhinelander, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “It managed to hold its closest challenger, Amazon, at bay, primarily because its own customers rated the QVC shopping experience higher than shoppers at competitors’ sites.” is a close third with a newly revamped site and new features like an online address book, improved usability, and free shipping. However, the site doesn’t offer inventory status and doesn’t send order or shipping email confirmations. Wal-Mart comes in fourth. It has the only site that does not force shoppers to register, and it offers free return shipping. But email replies are often slow, and customers won’t find gift-wrapping or real-time inventory information. Although shoppers at J.C. Penney’s fifth-place site enjoy gift registry and gift-wrapping services, they must endure the longest first-time checkout process of all sites tested.

“J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart have a long way to go to catch their rivals in the General Merchandise category,” said Rhinelander. “But at least they’re still in business. Value America would have been ranked near the bottom, but it just shut its virtual doors.”

For the updated PowerRankings, Forrester surveyed 19,000 consumers from Greenfield Online’s 600,000-person online panel. These consumers identified the most recent eCommerce sites that they purchased from and rated their experiences. A team of Forrester shoppers then evaluated the shopping experience for sites with a statistically valid number of consumer respondents, performing a series of rigorous tests in six areas. The consumer data and Forrester shopper scores were then synthesized and weighted, with consumer views accounting for two-thirds of the overall PowerRanking. A complete set of PowerRankings results — both consumer and Forrester shopper data — are made available to all ranked companies for no charge.

In the coming weeks, Forrester will be announcing results in additional PowerRankings categories. Additional information about each of the categories, including a complete set of rankings and scores, can be found at the PowerRankings Web site —