Trader Joe’s and Wegmans have managed to keep their customer service cred intact this year while other food retailers have seen their service scores wane during the pandemic.
A new COVID-19 retail study by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) shows that supermarket ACSI scores are down overall 3.8%. In fact, four out of five retail industries the ACSI measures – department and discount stores, specialty retail stores, supermarkets, and internet retailers – have seen customer satisfaction fall this year.
“From the onset of COVID-19, consumer expectations of retailers took a massive hit,” said David VanAmburg, managing director at the ACSI. “Customers braced for delayed packages, empty grocery store shelves, and hard-to-find name brands. Of course, just because they expected this, doesn’t mean they were thrilled about it. As customer satisfaction slips, retailers must adapt to the new market. It’s clear they have their work cut out for them.”
The good news is that many food retailers are winning at customer satisfaction, even during un unprecedented crisis.
The top four grocers as measured by their ACSI scores have held steady this year: Trader Joe’s and Wegmans tie for first place at 84, followed by Publix and Costco at 83. Customers are increasingly satisfied with Costco’s checkout speed these past six months. Texas-based grocer H-E-B climbed into a tie for first place in the 2019-2020 Retail report, but lost ground since the pandemic, falling 2% to 82. Walmart’s Sam’s Club is unchanged at 80, tying it with Aldi (down 4%), and just ahead of BJ’s Wholesale Club, which plummets 4% to 79. Hy-Vee remains steady at 78, while three grocers sit at 76: Ahold Delhaize (down 1%), Target (down 4%) and Amazon’s Whole Foods (down 4%).
There’s congestion at the industry average, with five grocers sitting at 75: Save-A-Lot (unchanged), Supervalu (down 1%), Meijer (down 4%), Kroger (down 5%), and ShopRite (down 6%). Southeastern Grocers (down 3%), Giant Eagle (down 3%), and the group of smaller grocers (down 6%) come in at 74. Walmart is next, down 3% to 71.
After plummeting 8%, Albertsons Companies is alone at the bottom with a score of 69 – the first time a supermarket has scored in the 60s since 2015.
The effects of the pandemic on retail are especially pronounced in supermarkets. Aside from checkout speed, which remains steady at 76, all other customer experience benchmarks decline. Keeping shelves stocked has been a major issue for the industry with inventory sinking 6% to 75. Customers aren’t seeing many sales and promotions, and they’re uninspired by the number of locations.
Costco takes the top mark among department and discount stores, but its lead from before the pandemic dwindles, as it falls 2% to an ACSI score of 81. Costco improves for its mobile app quality and reliability; however, satisfaction with inventory falls sharply.
There’s a five-way tie for second place at 79: Kohl’s (unchanged), Nordstrom (unchanged), Dillard’s (up 1%), Belk (up 1%), and Walmart’s Sam’s Club (down 2%).
Macy’s comes in third, unchanged at 78, followed by JCPenney, which slides 1% to 77. Target (down 3%), BJ’s Wholesale Club (down 4%), and the group of smaller department stores (down 4%) all tie at 76. Meijer and Ross Stores each slip 1% to 75.
Dollar Tree tumbles 4% while Sears climbs 4% to meet at 74. Sears’ gain represents the biggest improvement of all retailers measured.
Big Lots holds steady at 73. Fred Meyer retreats 3% to an ACSI score of 72. Walmart is stable at 71, as customers see improvement in checkout speed. Unfortunately, Walmart still rates lowest on this measure.
Coming in last is Dollar General, plummeting 4% to 70. Dollar General struggles the most when it comes to merchandise variety, inventory and store layout.
Overall, department and discount stores improve in store layout, checkout speed, name brands, store locations, and mobile app reliability. However, customers feel the industry struggles with inventory availability, sales and promotions, and store hours since COVID-19, with the latter dropping 2% to 80.
Customer satisfaction with health and personal care stores is steady at 76 over the last six months, as customers’ retailer of choice remains the same: smaller drug stores.
Despite slipping 1% to an ACSI score of 81, smaller drug stores lead the industry once again. CVS moves into second place, climbing 1% to 78. Kroger, which slips 1% to 77, is next, followed by Walmart, up 1% to 75. Walmart’s checkout speed improves substantially, but the retailer still trails the rest of the industry for this measure.
Kmart, a Sears company, stumbles 1% to 74, just ahead of Walgreens, which slips 3% to 73. Rite Aid and Albertsons Companies sit in the industry cellar together, each sinking 4% to an ACSI score of 72.
Among internet retailers, no companies improve customer satisfaction during the pandemic, as the category tumbles nearly 5% overall.
Costco, Etsy, and Nordstrom tie for first place at 80. Six companies score 77: Staples (unchanged), Best Buy (down 1%), Target (down 1%), eBay (down 3%), Macy’s (down 4%), and Amazon (down 7%). According to the data, the former online leader experiences big declines in site performance, merchandise variety, inventory, customer support and shipping.
Home Depot (down 3%) and the group of other internet retailers (down 4%) score 76 apiece, followed closely by nine retailers at 75: Walgreens (unchanged), GameStop (down 1%), Groupon Goods (down 3%), Gap (down 4%), Dell (down 4%), Apple (down 4%), Lowe’s (down 4%), Overstock (down 5%), and Wayfair (down 6%).
Walmart (down 1% to 73) and Sears (down 1% to 72) make up the bottom two. Surprisingly, customers are more satisfied with Sears’ shipping and mobile app capabilities. But those gains aren’t enough to improve overall satisfaction.
Only six specialty retail stores – Sephora, Ulta Beauty, AutoZone, Michaels, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Office Depot – are stable since the onset of COVID-19. The rest experienced shrinking customer satisfaction.
L Brands slips 1% to 81 yet maintains a slight lead. Despite losing ground, L Brands outpaces the competition in staff courtesy and inventory.
Sephora and Ulta Beauty tie for second place with an ACSI score of 80, followed by Cabela’s, which dips 1% to 79. Gap, TJX, and Abercrombie & Fitch are all down 1% to 78.
Five retailers post scores of 77: AutoZone (unchanged), Michaels (unchanged), PetSmart (down 1%), Foot Locker (down 3%), and Bed Bath & Beyond (down 4%). They tie smaller specialty stores (down 3%).
Seven retailers match the industry average of 76: Dick’s Sporting Goods and Office Depot are unchanged; Staples, Best Buy, and Petco all fall 1%; O’Reilly Auto Parts drops 3% and Ascena plummets 5%.
Advance Auto Parts, Home Depot, and Lowe’s sit just below the industry average, each slinking back 4% to 75. They meet Burlington, which recedes 1%. Menards takes the biggest tumble of the bunch, down 8% to 74, while GameStop remains at the bottom, down 4% to 72.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index special COVID-19 retail study is based on interviews with 30,787 customers from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2020.