According to new data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®), customer satisfaction with retail overall is down for the second year in a row. The Retail Trade sector slips 0.9% to 77.4 on ACSI’s 100-point scale.
ACSI issued a report that covers six retail categories—department and discount stores, specialty retail stores, health and personal care stores, supermarkets, internet retail, and gas stations—as well as consumer shipping and the U.S. Postal Service. Results are based on surveys conducted over a 12-month period from January to December 2018, with the exception of internet retail, which represents the holiday shopping period only. With approval from ACSI, we are excerpting some of these results here:
ACSI results are bad news for retailers. All six categories register weaker customer satisfaction for 2018. Customers far prefer online shopping to all other types of retail, but even e-commerce shows signs of strain. Overall, gas service stations are hit the hardest, dropping 2.6% to 74—despite falling gas prices, which are down 2.1% from a year ago.
The widespread decline for retail is due, in part, to less-than-stellar customer service. While low unemployment is a sign of a strong economy, it is also accompanied by more employee turnover, especially in retail and service industries. More experienced and better qualified employees find higher-paying jobs. As a result, retailers must not only find and train new people; they also have to deal with staff shortages. All of this puts a strain on customer service.
Except for the convenience of store location and hours (85), all elements of the grocery shopping experience are worse compared to a year ago. Brand names are less available (81), as is merchandise selection (80). Inventory stocks are down as well (-2% to 79). The quality of meat and produce has lessened (-2% to 81) and shoppers say stores aren’t as clean and well laid out as they used to be (81). Sales are less frequent (78) and pharmacy service is worse (76).
Supermarket customer service is showing the same strains as other retail categories. Service personnel are less helpful and courteous in person (81) and over the phone (call center satisfaction is down 3% to 78). The checkout process is slower and rates lowest at 75.
SPECIALTY RETAIL STORES
Customer satisfaction with retailers specializing in products such as clothing, home improvement, office, automotive, or pet supplies is down 1.3% to an ACSI score of 78.
L Brands, which shot up to a record high a year ago, retreats 4% to 82—but remains in first place. The Victoria’s Secret parent’s stock has fallen nearly 56% in the past 12 months. The company sold the La Senza brand and announced plans to shutter its high-end Henri Bendel chain. In second place, Barnes & Noble is stable at 81 for a third consecutive year.
Two beauty retailers debut in the ACSI for 2018: Ulta Beauty and Sephora. Consumers give Ulta Beauty (80) a slight satisfaction edge over Sephora (79), with Ulta showing an advantage for both the quality and value of its product offerings.
Ascena, which includes Ann Taylor and Loft, is one of the few companies to advance, edging up 1% for the second year in a row. The gain puts Ascena at 80, well above the industry average. Cabela’s also remains above average despite a 2% downturn to 80.
O’Reilly Auto Parts (-1% to 80) keeps the lead for automotive goods, ahead of Advance Auto Parts (-1% to 78) and AutoZone (unchanged at 78). Among pet supply stores, PetSmart (unchanged at 79) stays just ahead of Petco (+1% to 78).
Home improvement stores register no change. Menards leads with a steady score of 80, while Lowe’s (78) and Home Depot (76) trail behind, unmoved. Likewise, office suppliers Staples and Office Depot are unchanged at 78 and 77, respectively.
Michaels improves 1% while Bed Bath & Beyond and TJX move in the opposite direction (both -1%) to meet at 79, along with the combined score of smaller specialty stores. Several other stores are deadlocked at the industry average of 78: Abercrombie & Fitch (-1%), Best Buy (unchanged), Foot Locker (unchanged), and Gap (+1%). Burlington remains below average, slipping 1% to 76.
Dick’s Sporting Goods and GameStop, at the bottom of the category, have been hit hard by shifting consumer shopping habits. Dick’s Sporting Goods falls 4% to 75, just ahead of GameStop, which is also down by 4% to 74. Both carry merchandise that consumers can easily purchase without visiting a brick-and-mortar store. Even worse, many of these products can be found at lower prices online.
According to customers, there is no improvement in the online shopping experience compared to a year ago—and most aspects have gotten worse. Mobile apps, however, are a bright spot, receiving high marks of 86 for quality and 85 for reliability. While still highly rated, the desktop checkout and payment process is not as convenient as it once was—down 2% to 85. Likewise, navigation is more tedious (-2% to 83) and site performance is down (83).
Merchandise variety, including brand names, ebbs 2% to 82 and inventory is less available (81). Product images are much less useful (-4% to 81), as are product descriptions (-2% to 81). Shipping options have lessened (80) and customer support has waned, showing room for improvement at 77. Both customer-generated reviews (79) and site-generated recommendations (75) are unmoved from a year ago, anchoring the low end along with customer support.
About This Report
The ACSI Retail and Consumer Shipping Report 2018-2019 on department and discount stores, specialty retailers, health and personal care stores, supermarkets, internet retail, gas stations, consumer shipping, and the U.S. Postal Service is based on interviews with 62,486 customers. Respondents were chosen at random and contacted via email between January 16 and December 26, 2018, for all industries except internet retail, which represents the holiday shopping period only (October 8 to December 26, 2018). Customers are asked to evaluate their recent experiences with the largest companies in terms of market share, plus an aggregate category consisting of “all other”—and thus smaller—companies in these industries.
The survey data are used as inputs to ACSI’s cause-and-effect econometric model, which estimates customer satisfaction as the result of the survey-measured inputs of customer expectations, perceptions of quality, and perceptions of value. The ACSI model, in turn, links customer satisfaction with the survey- measured outcomes of customer complaints and customer loyalty. ACSI clients receive confidential industry-competitive and best-in-class data on all modeled variables and customer experience benchmarks.