Brand names, ample selection, and quick payment makes Internet retailers hard to beat compared with brick-and-mortar stores. While the 2015 holiday shopping season proved tough on customer satisfaction across the entire retail sector, Web retailers overall remain pacesetters in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
In February’s ACSI Retail report, Internet retail dips 2.4% year-over-year for 2015, but still leads the sector with an ACSI score of 80 on a 0-100 scale. At 77, specialty stores like pet suppliers, book sellers, or wholesale clubs give Web retail its biggest challenge, but department and discount stores, supermarkets, and drug stores all trail far behind with subpar customer satisfaction levels (73 to 74).
The top draw of online shopping for customers is an easy and speedy purchase process (ACSI benchmark of 88). Meanwhile, shoppers lining up in traditional stores may be tapping their heels in frustration. Department and discount stores fare worst when it comes to checkout speed (70), followed by supermarkets (72). Specialty retailers are more efficient at ringing up sales (76), but still lag the Internet for checkout by a yawning 12 points. Web retail also has a strong advantage over brick-and-mortar when it comes to merchandise variety and selection, including brand names (84).
Traditional stores, however, are closing the gap to Internet retail through the Web channel. Across the four brick-and-mortar categories, website satisfaction ranges from 78 to 81, which is comparable to the overall satisfaction score of 80 for Internet retail.
Call centers also represent a touch point where traditional stores can match or even beat e-tail. ACSI data show that the least satisfying aspect of the Web retail experience is customer support (77), which includes live chat, call centers, or help pages. Specialty retailers and drug stores offer a personal touch that exceeds Web retail by way of courteous and helpful staff and smoothly operating call centers (benchmarks ranging from 79 to 83).
On the other hand, department and discount stores fail to gain any advantage over online retail via either face-to-face customer service (77) or call centers (75). Moreover, department and discount stores overall provide the least satisfying customer experience among the four brick-and-mortar groups—a situation that does not bode well for an industry already under siege from the explosive growth of Web retail.