Customer satisfaction with department, discount stores up 5%

Nordstrom store front facing mall

The tides have turned; after two years of declining customer satisfaction, customers' view of store help is up, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). In total, retail trade is up 4.7% for a score of 78.3 (out of 100), an all-time high. 

Internet retail topped the customer service charts with an overall score of 83, up 3.8% from last year. Amazon is in first place, up 4% to 86. Newegg gained 5% to 83, and eBay rose 8% to 81. 

However, surprising is that department and discount stores ranked near the top of the gains list, up 5.4% to a 78. In first place for customer satisfaction was Dillard's, up 4% to score an 83 on the ACSI and second place went to JCPenney, up 11% to 82. The only department store to dip in satisfaction was Nordstrom, down 2% in a three-way tie with Dollar Tree and Belk at 80. Macy's and Target scored a 79, Dollar General a 78, Meijer and Sears a 77, and Ross a 76. 

With foot traffic declining at department stores, these pains for retailers can me short-term gains for consumers who enjoy the brick-and-mortar experience, according to David VanAmburg, ACSI director. Less traffic means shorter lines, a greater likelihood that inventories are available to meet consumer needs and more discounting to bring consumers in-store.

"This gain for consumers is likely to be short-lived, however, as once store closings and staffing cuts take effect, shoppers will generally find that customer service is weakening at many stores or worse, that their favorite or most convenient department store has been shuttered entirely," VanAmburg told FierceRetail. 

RELATED: Department stores stage comeback with help of e-commerce

And why the sudden dip in traditionally strong Nordstrom? 

Nordstrom's customer satisfaction remains high, even though two years of decline have taken away its industry-leading position. VanAmburg speculates that the department store may also be cannibalizing itself to some extent by investing more resources to improve its online shopping experience. 

Although Walmart's score was up 9% from last year, it still ranks at the lower end of the department and discount group with a score of 72. 

“The retail landscape has shifted toward e-commerce, but there are opportunities for department stores to capitalize on this,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and chairman. “Stores will remain relevant to the extent that they can integrate online shopping with brick-and-mortar operations, combining the convenience of online shopping with the benefit of personal service.”

Speciality retailers were up 3.9% with a total of 80. Specifically, Costco took the lead with a score of 83, followed by Sam's Club, L Brands and Barnes & Noble, all which scored an 81. 

Drugstore satisfaction jumped 6.8% to 78, with Kmart in the lead at 84. Albertsons came in second at 83 and Kroger an 81. The only drugstore to fall was Target, down 1% to a score of 79. Rite Aid improved 13% to 78 and Walgreens and Walmart were at the low end with a 76. 

Supermarkets improve customer satisfaction by 6.8% to 78. First place went to Trader Joe's, 86 points, Publix scored an 84, followed by Aldi, H-E-B and Wegmans at 83. 

Moving forward, retailers will need to create synergies between traditional stores and the digital experience in order to keep their brick-and-mortar businesses thriving. As an example, VanAmburg notes combining technology with the in-store experience by offering BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store). 

"This allows consumers to take advantage of the convenience of the digital shopping experience without the wait for shipping -- a quick trip to the retailer to present a receipt and pick up the item at a customer service counter avoids the lengthier experience of shopping and checking out in the physical store," he said. 

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