L.L.Bean continues to claim a rare retail bragging right: a first place finish over Amazon.com.

For the third year in a row, the outdoor outfitter has been named Customer Service Champion over the online behemoth in Prosper Insights & Analytics’ annual review of service excellence among retailers. The latest list of Customer Service Champions was developed from write-in votes from more than 6,500 U.S. adults in September 2016 and weighted by each retailer’s relative size in annual revenues as well as its fan base, as defined by a retailer’s “promoters” (per the Net Promoter Score*). Lands’ End, Fingerhut, and Kohl’s follow L.L.Bean and Amazon, respectively, to round out the top five. Others joining this year’s list of 25 retailers range from department stores (JCPenney, Nordstrom) to big box specialties (Best Buy, Lowe’s) as well as grocers (Publix, Wegmans), discounters (Target, Walmart), and a warehouse club (Costco).

The definition of customer service can take on varied meanings depending on the shopper, which is what makes the “whys” behind consumers’ nominations so important. Text analysis of more than 3,000 responses received for the top 25 retailers revealed ten keywords shoppers used to describe why their retailer delivered service excellence (in rank order): helpful, returns, easy, quick, problems, shipping, friendly, price, knowledgeable, and selection.

Members of the Millennial (born 1983 to 1998) and Gen X (1965 to 1982) generations were most likely to refer to the term helpful when describing a Champion, while Boomers (1946 to 1964) preferred returns. The youngest generation also honed in on quick – not too surprising, given that this tech-enabled generation has come to expect near-instantaneous gratification when purchasing products and services or receiving assistance. In addition to returns, Boomers gravitated toward easy, clearly illustrating that this generation seeks a service experience that removes the risk and anxiety from purchases, particularly as their transactions grow increasingly digital. Gen X-ers were more likely than average to hone in on words like shippingprice, and selection to verbalize their thoughts, so it appears that cost-conscious convenience appeals to this generation, currently in their prime child-rearing, career-driven, and multitasking years.

Read below as consumers articulate specifically why each of the top five retailers is deserving of “Champion” status.

1) L.L.Bean: With other retailers now trying to stay afloat against Amazon.com’s advances, L.L.Bean has continued to distinguish itself by staying true to its roots: providing legendary customer service, through Guaranteed to Last™ products as well as helpful, knowledgeable, and accessible associates.

2) Amazon.com: In what seems like just a few short years, the dot com has cultivated a trusting, captivated, and loyal shopper following, all with few physical touchpoints. The secret to Amazon’s success? Customers cite free shipping, low prices, and an A to Z catalog of merchandise available – with Prime memberships adding the cherry to the top of a great experience.

3) Lands’ End: Like L.L.Bean, Lands’ End managed to attract its own loyal following of shoppers without ubiquitous brick-and-mortar locations. For more than half a century, Lands’ End has been backing its selection of quality-oriented merchandise with its satisfaction-focused return policy, which has certainly helped take some of the risk out of buying from the retailer’s nontraditional sales channels.

4) Fingerhut: As a first-time Champion, Fingerhut certainly makes an impact in fourth position. With many consumers still operating tight budgets, shoppers feel that Fingerhut understands tough financial situations by offering credit and payment installment plans for items that would otherwise be out of their reach.

5) Kohl’s: As the highest-ranking department store in our 2016 Champions list, Kohl’s managed to delight its customers in a way that competitors were unable to match this year. Here’s the secret: Kohl’s shoppers LOVE a great deal.

Pam Goodfellow is Principal Analyst for Prosper Insights & Analytics, a global leader in consumer intent data serving the financial services, marketing technology, and retail industries.

*Net Promoter, NPS and Net Promoter Score are trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company, and Fred Reichheld

[Originally posted on Forbes.com on August 3, 2017]

L.L.Bean Beats Amazon.com, Once Again, For Best Customer Service
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