Online retailers hold service lead

22 February 2012

NEW YORK: Online retailers perform better than their bricks-and-mortar counterparts in providing high levels of customer satisfaction in the US, new research has revealed.

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, total ratings in this area across the retail industry rose by 0.7 points last year, reaching 75.8 points on a 100-point scale. The pace of increase, however, moderated to 0.1 points in the fourth quarter.

"The good news is that customer satisfaction continues to climb, which has a positive effect on consumer demand and growth," Claes Fornell, the founder of ACSI, said.

"Still, the ACSI improvement is tepid, and much of the fourth quarter gain comes from positive consumer reaction to lower gas prices. With gas prices already on the rise, customers obviously are going to be less pleased."

Overall, Amazon posted the strongest score of the 44 companies monitored, logging 86 points overall. Newegg, another online retailer, posted 85 points, to claim second.

The leading bricks and mortar chains were Publix, the supermarket group, and Nordstrom, the high-end department store, which both secured 84 points.

Costco, the membership warehouse, logged 83 points, matching the total of Overstock, a website offering well-known brands at discount prices. JC Penney, the apparel chain, hit 82 points. Next up was eBay, the online auction site, on 81 points.

When assessed as a supermarket, Wal-Mart posted 69 points, down by 2.8 points year on year. Within the discount and department store category, the company posted 70 points, down by 4.1 points.

Netflix was the operator witnessing the largest decline year on year, down by 14 points to 74 points due to price increases and unpopular, albeit now aborted, plans to split its DVD postal service.

Barnes & Noble was another firm which faced a challenging 2011, as its returns dropped by four points to 79 points, as it tries to fight increasing pressure from the web.

"The retailer faces a formidable opponent in Amazon, a direct competitor with a cost-effective online business model and a much higher level of customer satisfaction," Fornell said.

By category, internet retailers posted the highest average score on 81 points, while speciality retailers logged 79 points. Health and personal care stores hit 76 points, the same figure as supermarkets.

Data sourced from American Customer Satisfaction Index; additional content by Warc staff