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ACSI-Customer-Sat-Retail-Sector-Feb2014While e-commerce sites have generally enjoyed higher levels of customer satisfaction than traditional retail stores, the gap has disappeared for the time being, according to the latest industry-wide report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The ACSI study indicates that customer satisfaction ratings with all forms of traditional retail either remained steady or increased, while satisfaction with online retailers dropped to its lowest point since 2001.

Here’s a look at how some of the retail industry segments fared.

  • Department and Discount Stores

This was the only traditional retail segment to not experience an increase in customer satisfaction, remaining flat at an overall level of 77 (on a 100-point scale, where 80 is considered the threshold of excellence).

Among these retailers, Nordstrom continued to be the most-highly rated despite dipping a point to 83, and was followed by Dillard’s (81) and Kohl’s (81). By contrast, Wal-Mart wallowed at the bottom of the list again, unchanged at a score of 71, 4 points below the next-worst store, Exchange.

Department and discount store customers were most satisfied with the convenience of store locations and hours (84), and least satisfied with the speed of the checkout process (72).

  • Specialty Retail Stores

The specialty store segment gained a couple of points in overall satisfaction to reach a score of 80, its highest point since the ACSI began measuring it in 2001.

Costco continued to lead the pack, picking up a point to a high score of 84, trailed by a group of stores (Barnes & Noble, Lowe’s and OfficeMax) that each had an index reading of 82. At the bottom of the list were Gap and Best Buy, both with scores of 77.

In terms of customer experience, the availability of merchandise (inventory stocks), the ability to provide brand names, the layout and cleanliness of store, and the courtesy and helpfulness of staff were all grouped at the top by satisfaction (81). Shoppers were the least satisfied with the frequency of sales and promotions (73).

  • Supermarkets

Supermarkets also reached their highest customer satisfaction level since the ACSI began measuring them in 1995, gaining a point to a score of 77. Though it remained flat from last year, Publix again was the runaway leader: its score of 86 was not only 5 points higher than its closest competition in the segment (the aggregate of smaller supermarkets), but was the second-highest of any retailer measured in the index. In fact, the ACSI notes that it is the only company in ACSI’s 20 years of coverage across 43 industries that has led its category each year.

At the bottom of this list? Wal-Mart again, this time with a low score of 72, although that was a 3-point improvement from last year.

Much as with the department and discount store segment, supermarket shoppers were most satisfied with the convenience of store location and hours (86) and least satisfied with the speed of the checkout process (73).

  • Internet Retail

Overall satisfaction with internet retailers dropped by 3 points to 78, its lowest point since 2001. That was despite a substantial improvement by Amazon, which picked up another 3 points from its leading position last year to reach a score of 88, the highest of any retailer studied across any retail segment. It’s not a surprise to see Amazon at the top – it consistently sets the standard for online retail satisfaction.

Also seeing significant improvement this year was Netflix, which gained 4 points to hit a score of 79. But those gains were more than offset by a big drop in satisfaction among the aggregate of smaller internet retailers, from 82 to 75.

There were some interesting findings here in terms of the customer experience benchmarks: shoppers were most satisfied with the ease of checkout and payment process (90) and the variety and selection of merchandise (88), but least satisfied with the usefulness of site-generated recommendations of other products (80), although that low score still meets the threshold of excellence.

Other Findings:

  • Overall satisfaction with retail trade improved by 1.3 points to 77.9, the highest point since the ACSI began measuring the composite index in 1995.
  • Satisfaction with health and personal care stores gained a couple of points to a score of 79, led by the aggregate of smaller stores, which picked up 4 points en route to a score of 83. Rite Aid scored lowest, at 74.
  • Satisfaction with gasoline stations was up a couple of points to 75, while internet brokerage sites improved to a score of 80, their highest on record.

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