American consumers continue to do more of their shopping online — and those who do are increasingly happy with the experience.
In fact, internet retail is the only bright spot in the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Retail and Consumer Shipping Report released last week. While satisfaction scores with brick-and-mortar stores remained unchanged, the ACSI score for internet retail rose 1.3 percent to 81 out of 100 points. (The ACSI results are based on random interviews with more than 85,000 customers last year.)
Three online retailers rated higher than the industry average and one — Nordstrom — comes from traditional retail:
- Amazon: 83
- Etsy: 82
- Nordstrom: 82
Costco, last year’s first place online retailer, slid 2 percent to third place at 81, tied with HP Store, Kohl’s, Newegg and Nike. Only 18 percent of Costco members regularly shop its website, the ACSI report noted.
Shoppers said they like the variety and selection of the merchandise they find online, the quality of the mobile apps and websites, ease of checkout and the variety of shipping options.
“It's just a much more satisfying experience for consumers than the brick-and-mortar and it really doesn't matter who you are as a retailer,” said David VanAmburg, ACSI’s managing director. “Among the very best retailers, like Nordstrom, all the way down to the worst retailers that are really struggling, like Sears, if you compare a shopper’s brick-and-mortar experience to the online experience for those respective retailers, online is still beating brick-and-mortar pretty much across the board.”
Despite its much-publicized efforts to improve its online channel, Walmart “can’t gain any traction” against Amazon when it comes to customer satisfaction, VanAmburg said. With an ACSI score of 74, Walmart is in the next to last spot in the internet category, just a point above Sears (73).
It’s interesting to note that customers find the shopping experience more satisfying going to a Costco store than going online. With Nordstrom, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Best Buy, Game Stop and Sears, online scores higher.
When it comes to buying groceries, most of us still go to a traditional supermarket. While online grocery shopping is growing, it only represents 6.3 percent of the $874 billion spent on groceries in the U.S. last year, according to the consulting firm Brick Meets Click.
“The accessibility, attractiveness and acceptability of shopping online for groceries are all continuing to grow; however, this remains a novel way to shop for most households,” said David Bishop, a partner at Brick Meets Clicks.
Acceptability is improving, but right now, the experience “isn't always better than the traditional form of shopping in the store” when it comes to finding what you want, and receiving exactly what you ordered, in a timely manner, Bishop told NBC News BETTER.
Satisfaction with the in-store supermarket shopping experience remained stable from last year with an ACSI score of 78. Customers like the quality and freshness of the meat and produce, the variety of merchandise, and the frequency of sales and promotions. Store staff are seen as courteous and helpful, but checkout speed could use some improvement.
The quality of supermarket pharmacies, already rated the worst aspect of the grocery store experience, dropped 3 percent to 74 — lower than the score for checkout speed (76).
Three chains tied for first place this year with an ACSI score of 84:
- H-E-B: This regional supermarket maintains higher quality service with a more local feel by having all of its stores in Texas.
- Trader Joe’s: While it no longer holds the top spot alone this year, Trade Joe’s “remains a pacesetter across much of the customer experience and a lead for its quality of service,” the report noted.
- Wegmans: With more than 100 stores in seven east coast states, Wegmans wins top marks for the quality of its meat and produce.
With that score of 84, H-E-B, Trader Joe’s and Wegmans are not only the top-rated, they rank first for customer satisfaction across the entire retail sector surveyed by ACSI — even ahead of Amazon (83).
“Amazon is trying to be everything to everybody in terms of the range of merchandise, VanAmburg told NBC News BETTER. “H-E-B, Trader Joe’s and Wegmans are focused on groceries and doing a really good job at providing you a great grocery experience. And I think that’s achievable in brick-and-mortar setting versus an online setting and perhaps more so.”
Amazon is also betting on the long-term viability of brick-and-mortar supermarkets. Last week, it unveiled the first Amazon-branded grocery store, cashier-less Amazon Go Grocery, in Seattle.
Aldi, Costco and Publix (tied at 83) are right behind the leaders. Costco continues to focus on value. Publix stores rate best in class for layout and cleanliness.
The grocery business at BJ’s Wholesale Club (82) had the largest gain in the industry last year, putting it well above average.
Sam’s Club, which ties with ShopRite at 80, got high marks for frequent sales and promotions.
Kroger, the largest U.S. grocery chain, remains tied at a just-above average 79 with Target and Whole Foods. Kroger is working to add technology to the in-store experience, but these tech innovations “have yet to result in greater customer satisfaction,” the report noted.
Once again this year, Albertsons companies (which includes Safeway) and Save-A-Lot (both 75) remain at the bottom of the pack. Walmart remains in last place (73), although it did go up one percent from last year.
Discount and department stores struggle
Traditional retailers continue to respond to the move to online shopping by closing stores, cutting employees and trying to improve their online sales channels. For now, customer satisfaction appears to have stabilized at 76, the same as 2018.
Those who do shop in-store said they see cleanliness and inventory declining. Staff courtesy and friendliness also took a big hit, tumbling from 77 to 74. The worst part of the shopping experience is checkout speed (71), which is lower for department and discount stores than any other retail category in the ACSI survey.
“It’s harder to find staff on the floor and those who are there are generally quite taxed to keep up with shoppers who need their time to look for merchandise or to simply ring up their purchase,” VanAmburg said.
The top retailers in this category again this year are the membership warehouses:
- Costco: 83
- Sam’s Club: 81
- BJ’s Wholesale: 79
“Costco’s brick-and-mortar business stays a winner with satisfaction strong enough to tie online leader Amazon (83),” the report noted. Costco’s employees are rated best in class for being courteous and helpful.
The top-scoring department stores, Kohl’s and Nordstrom, are tied at 79. Nordstrom is at the top for brand names while Kohl’s customers like the frequent sales and promotions.
Belk, Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s and Target all scored a 78. Sears and Walmart remain at the bottom of the line at 71.
FedEx beats competition on shipping
FedEx (80) is now the clear leader in this field pulling ahead of UPS (76). Customers said the UPS mobile app is “much less reliable” than the FedEx app.
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) continues its decline, falling to 72 for its Express and Priority Mail service. At the same time, customer satisfaction with regular USPS mail delivery jumped 4 percent to 73. This is the first time that Express and Priority Mail scored lower than the regular USPS mail service in an ACSI survey.
SHOPPING TIPS FROM YOUR FAVORITE STORES
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.