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Study: Customer satisfaction up in specialty stores

Ann Arbor, Mich. - Customer satisfaction improved for a third consecutive year for retail. According to a report released by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), the retail sector overall gained 1.7% to an ACSI benchmark of 77.9, boosted by higher customer satisfaction with specialty retail stores, supermarkets, drug stores, and gasoline service stations.

Customers had a better shopping experience at specialty retailers during the 2013 holiday season, with the category gaining 2.6% to an ACSI benchmark of 80. Department and discount stores, on the other hand, remain flat at 77. Upscale Nordstrom leads at 83 and discounter Wal-Mart has the lowest score of 71.

Several chains cluster in the ACSI range of 77 to 79, including J.C. Penney, Sears, Target and the aggregate of smaller stores. Compared with a year ago, JCP is down 2%, while Sears is up by 3%. Macy’s declines 3% to 76, but Target suffers the greatest negative change, tumbling 5% to an ACSI benchmark of 77.

Among specialty retailers, including wholesale warehouse clubs, office supply chains or clothing stores, Costco regained the lead with a 1% uptick to 84, followed by Barnes & Noble (unchanged) and Lowe’s (+4%) at 82. Home Depot improved 3% to 79, but doesn’t catch Lowe’s, which has held the customer satisfaction advantage in home improvement for over a decade. At the low end, discounter TJX gained 4% to 79, pulling slightly ahead of both Gap and Best Buy (tied at 77).

The newly merged Office Depot and OfficeMax moved in opposite directions as of the fourth quarter of 2013, with Office Depot slumping 6% to 79 and OfficeMax gaining 5% to 82. Staples improved as well, up 3% to an ACSI benchmark of 81.

Specialty retailers earned strong ratings for staff courtesy and for store layout and cleanliness (ACSI benchmarks of 81) compared with department and discount stores at 78. Specialty stores also do a better job of providing name-brand merchandise (81) than department and discount stores (77).

Meanwhile, the grocery industry inched up 1.3% to an ACSI score of 78. Among national and regional supermarket chains, Publix dominates for customer satisfaction with a stable benchmark of 86. Ever since the ACSI’s inaugural year in 1994, Publix has remained number one in its category.

The aggregate of smaller grocery chains placed second at 81, followed closely by Kroger at 80. For the first time in six years, Whole Foods dropped in customer satisfaction, down 3% to 78. Winn-Dixie, Supervalu and Safeway are tightly grouped with scores of 76 to 77, while Wal-Mart lags behind at 72.

Customer satisfaction with health and personal care (drug) stores is up 2.6% to an ACSI benchmark of 79. The improvement comes from a large gain for smaller drug stores. Walgreens and CVS are tied at 76, while Rite Aid slides 4% to 74. Customers give high marks to both supermarkets and drug stores for locations and hours (ACSI benchmarks of 86 and 87, respectively). When asked about quality of pharmacy services, shoppers give better marks to drug stores (84) than to supermarkets (80).

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