With the holidays just…well, let’s not start counting down yet. But when they do arrive, they will no doubt extend what has become a new tradition: gauging the impact of online sales.

Web shopping has many virtues and has shown strong gains from one year to the next, but one group is not particularly impressed: E-tailers.

Asked to grade the online shopping experience, 433 E-tail insiders (executives, directors, and decision-makers) offered up a satisfaction rating of just 65 out of a possible 100. That’s almost 20 points lower than some surveys of E-tail customers, which has to count as a good thing (would E-tailers want the scores reversed?). But the survey found that E-tailers aren’t sure what to do next to make online shopping a better experience.

Most respondents indicated that the current crop of Web research tools and behavioral metrics come up short, and that as a result, they aren’t sure how to prioritize Web expenditures. The survey also found that companies with a strong E-tail component are less likely to rely on experts and gurus.

In fact, asked which feedback methods are seeing increased usage, they cited call centers and customer service. Phone contact, it seems, still has plenty of value. Asked about individual aspects of the E-tail experience, merchandise return rated as the worst for the third straight year, getting a score of only 54. Still, that represents a slight improvement from previous years.

The one aspect to actually drop in score was look-and-feel, suggesting that E-tailers have encountered a certain creative inertia. But site performance received a huge boost, from 56 in 2002 to 67 in 2004, suggesting that broadband connections and other technological advances are making sites easier to use. (Last month, Nielsen/NetRatings reported that in July, use of broadband connections in U.S. homes surpassed traditional dial-up for the first time ever.) Maybe that increased horsepower will inspire some better E-tail sites.

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