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86% of Retailers Saw Customer Satisfaction Rates Dip in 2020: ACSI

It’s been a tough go for retailers for the past year as they have undergone a massive pandemic-driven upheaval of their operations across all channels, impacting everything from their supply chain to their checkout experience. Unfortunately, while many merchants had adapted to the environment in some form via an upgraded online experience or the introduction of omnichannel fulfillment experiences like BOPIS and curbside pickup, it appears they still aren’t satisfying shoppers as much as they could be.

In fact, as many as 86 percent of the retailers measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) have suffered some downturns in customer satisfaction year over year.

Overall, the industry’s total declined 2.3 percent to a customer satisfaction score of 75.5 (out of 100) from 77.3 percent the prior year, according to the ACSI’s Retail and Consumer Shipping Report 2020-2021. This is the lowest ACSI score posted for the sector since 2015.

“2020 sent waves of disruption across the retail sector,” says David VanAmburg, managing director at the ACSI. “From mandatory closures that halted in-person shopping to stock shortages caused by panic buying, retailers experienced anything but business as usual. Deliveries from online retailers were delayed, and customers were frustrated when high-demand items sold out.”

The massive shift to online shopping seemed to overwhelm retailers as they tried to enhance those experiences, with even digital natives feeling the effects. In total, online retail’s ACSI score dropped 3.7 percent to 78 percent.

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Aspects of the online experience such as the variety and selection of merchandise and the usefulness of online product imagery dipped 4 percent in satisfaction rating to 81 percent and 80 percent respectively, while ease of checkout/payment and customer support helpfulness both dropped 3 percent.

Mobile experiences are here to stay

As more customers shift to online shopping during the pandemic, the industry’s mobile apps continue to perform well. The ACSI Report indicated that with scores of 81 for both quality and reliability, mobile apps are actually the best part of the online customer experience. Website satisfaction has slightly fallen off, however, falling 3 percent to 77.

Another report from mobile engagement software platform Vibes indicates that many mobile shopping trends established throughout the Covid-19 pandemic may be here for the long haul.

While Vibes, used by Ralph Lauren, Dollar General, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Sephora among others, announced that its clients saw significant returns in some of the more well-known mobile metrics, including a 24 percent growth in new mobile audience members, a 99.8 percent retention rate of existing mobile audiences and a 20 percent average click-through-rate on mobile messages, the true retail applications appear to have run deeper.

According to Vibes’ data, brands were sending 200 percent more transactional messages per month by the end of 2020 than they were at the start as changes in consumer behaviors such as contactless order pickup grew throughout the year. This peaked in the fourth quarter of 2020, as brands sent 400 percent more mobile messages for buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS) and buy online pickup at curbside (BOPAC) than in the year-prior quarter.

This bodes well for the future now that consumers are more used to both the mobile technology and the fulfillment services provided: Vibes forecasts that BOPIS and BOPAC messaging will continue to grow 45 percent in 2021.

This bodes well for the future now that consumers are more used to both the mobile technology and the fulfillment services provided: Vibes forecasts that BOPIS and BOPAC messaging will continue to grow 45 percent in 2021.

Retailers still are struggling to get the hang of excess online orders

Whether purchases are made through mobile or online channels, the industry is handling more packages than ever before, intensifying pressure on retailers and their supply chains. Unfortunately for these companies, the ACSI report indicates that customer satisfaction with consumer shipping has slipped 1.3 percent to 76. This represents an all-time industry low, the Index said.

From the customer’s point of view, timeliness of delivery suffers the most (a 4 percent decline to 79). Timeliness is now the least-satisfying aspect of the customer experience, along with the range of delivery options (79).

Among the three delivery giants, FedEx stays in the lead despite a 3 percent decline to 78. Customer satisfaction with UPS faded for a third straight year, dipping 1 percent to 75. Both companies reached record ACSI lows for 2021. The U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) Express and Priority Mail managed to gain a point to 73, which closes its gap with the private-sector companies.

All of the six retail industries covered in this report, including department and discount stores, specialty retail stores, health and personal care stores, supermarkets, internet retail and gas stations—as well as the seventh industry examined—consumer shipping and the U.S. Postal Service, saw overall satisfaction declines.

To gather the scores for the report, the ASCI interviewed 70,767 customers between Jan. 13, 2020, and Dec. 27, 2020.

Nordstrom leads way in online and department store categories

Nordstrom is a top player in two sectors, with the second-highest ACSI score (80) in the department/discount sector and the leading score in the online sector (81). Costco leads the department/discount sector for the fifth year in a row despite declining 2 percent to 81, while Nordstrom (which includes Nordstrom Rack) crept up 1 percent to 80.

While Dillard’s is third, up 1 percent to 79, Kohl’s and TJX are next in line, both slipping 1 percent to scores of 78.

Following two years of customer satisfaction stability, the department and discount store industry overall retreated 1.3 percent to an ACSI score of 75. Even with Nordstrom and Dillard’s eking out small gains, 13 of 19 major store chains suffered customer satisfaction declines year over year.

Specialty retailers already have had a rough go prior to the pandemic, but in 2020 the sector’s score dropped 1.3 percent to 77, marking the industry’s lowest point since 2015. L Brands sits atop the specialty retail store industry for a seventh straight year, yet slips 1 percent to a score of 81. Hobby Lobby and Nike both debut on the list in second place at 80 apiece, joined by Sephora, which is unchanged year over year.