SmarterKids just barely fends off a challenge from the new partnership to finish first in the latest PowerRankings of online toy and game sellers by Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). Forrester PowerRankings combines survey data from online consumers and unbiased shopping tests to provide objective rankings of the leading US eCommerce sites. The companies that rank below SmarterKids are, eToys, and KBkids.

Shoppers looking for products that meet SmarterKids’ educational criteria will appreciate the wealth of information available like the learning style and skills addressed by a toy. But the site is not for everyone — its educational focus means it doesn’t sell popular items like Barbie. The site also lacks external product reviews and the ability to cancel orders online.

The combined and site places second — less than a point off the lead, with features such as automatic recommendations and the quickest express checkout process of all the sites tested. But Amazon’s ongoing customer service failures continue to plague the site — shoppers must search for a buried customer support number and wait longer than at rival sites for an email reply or a live phone representative.

“SmarterKids just eked out a victory, but its limited product selection curbs its appeal,” said Tom Rhinelander, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “By joining with, dramatically improved its score over its previous ranking. If Amazon’s customer service had not faltered, the partners could have enjoyed a victory.”

eToys comes in a strong third — but slight tweaks could vault the site to the top. The site offers inventory information and some enhanced tools for displaying products, but its shipping costs are high. Despite having the fastest customer service, KBkids could not overcome numerous shortcomings in its shopping experience.

For the latest PowerRankings, Forrester surveyed 20,000 consumers from the NPD Group’s online panel. These consumers identified the eCommerce sites that they purchased from most recently and rated their experiences. A team of Forrester shoppers then evaluated the shopping experience on sites that have a statistically valid number of consumer respondents by performing a series of rigorous tests. The consumer data and Forrester shopper scores were then synthesized and weighted, with consumer views accounting for two-thirds of the overall ranking. A complete set of PowerRankings results — both consumer and Forrester shopper data — is made available to all ranked companies free of charge.

Additional information about each of the categories, including a complete set of rankings and scores, can be found can be found at the PowerRankings Web site —