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The NRF recently issued a fairly optimistic forecast about retail sales this year, and the sector might also be buoyed by new study data indicating that customer satisfaction has rebounded after a couple of years of decline. Indeed, the latest industry-focused research [download page] from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) indicates that customer satisfaction with the retail trade sector (excluding e-commerce) has improved by a sizable margin, increasing 3.5 points to 78.3 on a 100-point scale.

In so doing, the retail trade industry’s customer satisfaction index went from an 8-year low to an all-time high, with this the top mark yet in the ACSI’s survey history, which dates back to 1995.

Even so, it couldn’t match the results for e-commerce companies, which remained well ahead with a score of 82.4. There has only been one year since 2000, when the ACSI started measuring e-commerce brands, that retail stores have surpassed them in customer satisfaction. That year was 2001, when they had an 0.5-point lead.

Here’s a look at the study results for some of the industry categories tracked.

Department & Discount Stores

The results for this category reflected what was seen in the sector overall, as customer satisfaction reversed course from a 7-year low of 74 last year to an all-time high of 78 this year.

Topping the retailers tracked was Dillard’s, with a 3-point improvement to 83. It was closely followed by JCPenney, which had the strongest turnaround of all stores in this category, jumping 8 points to a score of 82.

The only store to see a decline was Nordstrom, down 2 points to a score of 80 (which nonetheless qualifies as “excellent”.) Nordstrom probably shouldn’t be too concerned, given that consumers just named it their favorite fashion retailer for the 5th consecutive year.

Looking at customer experience benchmarks for department and discount stores, the convenience of store location and hours (index score of 82) was the top factor, followed by the layout and cleanliness of the store, which showed significant improvement in climbing 5 points to a score of 80.

The speed of the checkout process continued to be the lowest-rated experience this year, though its score rose by 4 points to 74.

Health & Personal Card Stores

These stores also saw a healthy rise in overall score this year, going from an all-time low (the survey in this case dates to 2005) of 73 last year to a score of 78 that’s only one point down from the high reached in 2013.

The highest-rated store in this category was Kmart (Sears), jumping 8 points to 84. But that rise – however impressive – was dwarfed by that of second-place Albertsons, which soared 14 points from 69 to 83, easily the biggest rise of any retail company in any category.

Walmart, meanwhile, which had been last year’s lowest-rated store in this category, climbed 8 points of its own to a score of 76. It remained at the bottom, but was tied this time with Walgreens and CVS.

Specialty Retail Stores

The improvement for this category as a whole was more modest, as it rose only 2 points. Still, its score of 80 trailed only e-commerce among retail categories.

Costco is the standout performer among specialty retailers, leading all with a score of 83. Home Depot showed some improvement in gaining 7 points to reach an index score of 80, though Abercrombie & Fitch had the biggest rise of 11 points, though it trailed the pack with a score of 76.

The highest rated aspects of the specialty retail store experience were the courtesy and helpfulness of staff (83) and the layout and cleanliness of stores (83), while customers were least satisfied with the frequency of sales and promotions (76).

Supermarkets

Supermarkets saw a healthy rise in customer satisfaction, up 5 points to a score of 78. Trader Joe’s took the lead in this latest study, as it gained 3 points to a score of 86. That score was only rivaled by Amazon among all retail stores examined for the report.

Last year’s leader, Wegmans, fell by 3 points to a score of 83. Wegmans shouldn’t be too worried: it recently came in second among all brands in The Harris Poll’s annual brand reputation rankings.

Third in that study was Publix, which ranked second among supermarkets in the ACSI study with a score of 84.

Internet Retail

Finally, customer satisfaction with e-commerce companies also grew, up 3 points to a retail industry-leading 83. The leading brand? You guessed it: Amazon, up 3 points to a score of 86. It was followed by Newegg, which gained 4 points of its own to a score of 83.

E-commerce customers were most satisfied with the ease of checkout and payment processes (88; a fairly important factor for shoppers’ digital experiences) and the ease of navigation (85). Interestingly, they were least satisfied with the usefulness of site-generated recommendations of other products (78) – this may relate to few shoppers feeling that Amazon has the edge in this area.

The full study is available for download here.

About the Data: The ACSI Retail Report 2016 on department and discount stores, specialty retailers, drug stores, supermarkets, gas stations, and internet retail is based on interviews with 12,515 customers, chosen at random and contacted via email between November 15 and December 19, 2016. Customers are asked to evaluate their recent experiences with the largest brick-and-mortar and online retailers in terms of market share, plus an aggregate category consisting of “all other”—and thus smaller—companies in these industries.

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