The drinks industry is failing to get the best out of the internet and providing only an "average" online experience to its customers, according to research published today on just-drinks.

A report by the user experience research company fhios, commissioned by just-drinks.com and entitled: Online Customer Experience, Competitive Benchmarking for the Drinks Industry, found that, by and large, the drinks industry was failing to provide enthralling online customer experiences through its corporate websites.

The report evaluated the online corporate presence of 10 leading drinks companies across the beverage sectors, including The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Allied Domecq, Scottish & Newcastle, Anheuser-Busch, SABMiller, Heineken and Interbrew.

The Coca-Cola corporate site (www.coca-cola.com) came out as providing the best overall online experience, scoring highly across a number of the criteria, including content; customer care; community; customisation and commerce.

But Coca-Cola was the only site to score highly enough to be rated as "good" overall, claiming 76 points out of a possible 100. By comparison there was a great disparity between the rest of the sites, with regards to features and functionality. And while some performed well in one or more of the criteria, they all failed to score consistently enough to break out of the "average" bracket overall.

Dr Philip Rhodes, director and head of research at fhios said: "A site will have many objectives, but perhaps the ultimate goal of any corporate website is to welcome customers and anticipate their needs, movements and desires much the same way as any other customer touchpoint. The results from this review clearly indicate that many of the sites do not currently provide compelling online customer experiences.

"Although many of the sites do provide useful features and functionality, the navigational strategies and content included on those sites is often not intuitive and difficult to use."

Within the spirits sector, the French group Pernod Ricard came out on top, being particularly strong in the area of "community", through the inclusion of email alerts, online registration and an impressive recruitment section.

The Diageo site scored only marginally less than Pernod, scoring well in "customer care". Allied Domecq by comparison did not score as well. It failed in particular with regard to "customisation" and "customer care".

In the beer sector, Heineken stood out as providing the worst online customer experience. Within the "content", "customer care", "community", "customisation" and "commerce" indices, this site was rated lower than all the other sites. In contrast the S&N site provided a "good" community experience and performed well in terms of "content" and "customisation".

Within soft drinks, the PepsiCo site received similar ratings when compared to the sites from the other beverage sectors. However, it losses out when placed next to the Coca-Cola site, which was rated as at least "good" in all the customer experience indices.

Dr Rhodes said: "Investing in the customer experience may seem less exciting than investing in slick design and new technologies. Unless companies can turn browsers into repeat customers and help employees and partners create value, they don't have a viable business. The customer experience is a starting point for meeting your business goals."

fhios is a London-Based agency specialising in the delivery of user experience research and user centred design services to large corporate organisations and global brands. For further information on fhios visit www.fhios.com or email amcaulley@fhios.com

The full management briefing, Online Customer Experience: Competitive Benchmarking for the Dinks Industry, is available free to just-drinks members.

If you are not already a member of just-drinks but would like a copy of the briefing you can join here.

A full report from fhios, from which this management briefing was taken, will be available to buy from just-drinks' research store from 1st July.