Amazon.com, retail disruptor extraordinaire, has just been given the boot. The Bean Boot.
Crowning 2013’s inaugural list of Customer Service Champions, Amazon slipped to second position in 2014, behind L.L.Bean (the former #2). Prosper Insights & Analytics’ 2014 Customer Service Champions were developed from a write-in vote from more than 6,000 U.S. consumers (18+) during the third quarter of 2014 and weighted by each retailers’ relative size in annual revenues as well as its fan base, as defined by a retailer’s promoters (per the Net Promoter Score.*)
This year’s results provide interesting insight into the mindset of consumers. In the last decade, Amazon quickly rose to top of mind among consumers with deep discounts, a wide array of products and services, and free shipping incentives, providing the catalyst for changing the traditional definition of customer service in the digital age. In contrast, century-old L.L.Bean has relied less on the heavy promotions that have marred retailers’ profit margins during the recession and in the years since, instead upholding customer satisfaction through quality products – Guaranteed to Last™ – as well as the no-threshold free shipping incentive that consumers love. With consumers slowly easing back into spending, and retailers searching for solutions to pull back from deep discounting while still remaining competitive, L.L.Bean certainly provides a model for differentiating via satisfaction and quality which resonates with today’s consumers.
Following L.L.Bean and Amazon in this year’s Customer Service Champions Top 10 are (in rank order): Lands’ End, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, HSN, JC Penney, Sears, Best Buy, and Zappos.com. Reviewing the reasoning behind consumers’ votes reveals that each of these retailers has made a distinct, indelible impression on customers.
1. L.L.Bean: As previously mentioned, shoppers honed in on L.L.Bean’s product guarantee in propelling the retailer to the top of this year’s list of champions.
2. Amazon.com: While coming in second to L.L.Bean in this year’s list of Champions, the emotional connection that Amazon forged with its shoppers via the digital landscape is one that cannot be ignored. While Amazon’s hassle free return policy, low prices, and Prime benefits were frequently cited by shoppers in support of the online giant’s stellar service, being “trustworthy” was also a common theme – an important quality in an environment where worry about data security abounds.
3. Lands’ End: Like L.L.Bean, Lands’ End is another catalog/direct sales driven retailer that has managed to become a stand-out within the retail industry despite its lack of ubiquitous brick-and-mortar locations. Lacking face-to-face interaction with the many of its shoppers, Lands’ End receives high marks for product quality and an unequivocal no-hassle return policy.
4. Kohl’s: This department store is the highest ranking traditional format (read: brick-and-mortar) Champion for 2014. Kohl’s shoppers value its quick and easy returns as well as the deep discounts (read: Kohl’s Cash), which are prized by the middle income shoppers to whom Kohl’s caters.
5. Nordstrom: Long noted as benchmark for providing excellent customer service, shoppers were quick to hail the Nordstrom experience as exceeding expectations and providing shoppers with the respect they desire.
6. HSN: Via television or online, HSN’s key differentiator is that it provides budget-minded fans with accessibility – offering top brand names and myriad of products through its interest free FlexPay program.
7. JC Penney: With the department store’s ‘Fair and Square’ era in the rearview, shoppers welcomed the retailer’s renaissance and particularly cited friendly associates and, of course, sales as the reasons why they return to JC Penney.
8. Sears: Love it or leave it, Sears is an American institution which remains top of mind among key high-assistance categories (think appliances, auto, power tools, etc.), and Sears’ continued association with #3 Lands’ End likely boosts its service image as well. Shoppers, citing its legacy, seem to have a soft spot for the ailing department store, throwing the old dog a bone this year.
9. Best Buy: Three short years ago, Best Buy took a pummeling as Amazon’s electronics showroom. However, the big box fought back with shoppers frequently pointing to knowledgeable, helpful associates and a price match guarantee which gives Amazon a run for its money.
10. Zappos.com: This online pure play quickly won over fans with a company culture keenly focused on customer service. Zappos’ fun and friendly messaging, “lightning-fast” processing, and much-loved free shipping/returns make this Champion a perennial favorite.
*Net Promoter, NPS and Net Promoter Score are trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company, and Fred Reichheld