By Antone Gonsalves, TechWeb News

Among the 10 leading computer manufacturers and resellers, Dell Inc. delivered the best online experience to shoppers, while IBM provided the worst, a study released Monday showed.
Research on 2,100 consumers as they interacted with the vendors' web sites found that a strong brand, comprehensive product offering and a focus on ease of use were the key drivers behind Dell's top ranking, said Keynote Systems Inc., which provides e-business performance-management services.

Shoppers at the IBM site, on the other hand, were the most inclined to shop at another site, with 56 percent saying they were "very likely" to go to a competitor. Only 32 percent of Dell shoppers were very likely to leave.

"IBM was weak from a consumer's point of view on design, organization and customer support," Bonny Brown, director of research and public services for Keynote, said. "The site wasn't well designed for their particular needs."

In general, consumers said the highest ranking sites for computers and hardware peripherals provided easy search and product comparison capabilities, as well as comprehensive information about products. The vendors near the bottom did not perform well in product research and in the purchasing process.

Resellers got high marks for providing a wide selection of products and for a relatively hassle-free purchase process, but failed to make selecting and comparing products easy. No. 2, for example, frustrated 39 percent of the consumers who tried to use its product-comparison tools.

Manufacturers excelled in strong product comparison tools and in online help and customer support. Apple Computer Inc., second from the bottom in the rankings, was the lone exception, with 4 in 10 consumers complaining about its site's product information and comparison tools.

Comparison-shopping was a major driver for consumers visiting web sites, yet 27 percent reported frustration in using the tools provided by vendors. The second biggest frustration, 25 percent, was the lack of guidance and information available to help them chose a computer and options.

"A lot of the things we came across are really a lot of low-hanging fruit," Brown said. "Price and product quality would be hard to fix, but these things can be fixed easily."

Search engine Google Inc. was the most popular starting point for shoppers, attracting 16 percent of the consumers in the study. Dell was second at 12 percent. Best Buy Co. Inc. and attracted less than half as many consumers at the outset, and no manufacturer attracted more than 1 percent of the study's participants.

Hewlett-Packard Co. was No. 3 in the rankings, but Keystone declined to release the rankings of the remaining five, Best Buy, CompUSA, Gateway Inc., PC Connection Inc. and Sony Corp.