Ace Hardware ranked highest in customer satisfaction among home improvement retailers for a sixth consecutive year, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Home Improvement Retailer Satisfaction Study.
Having a helpful and knowledgeable sales staff and making the shopping process easy are key drivers of customer satisfaction, according to the study, which measures customer satisfaction with home improvement retail stores based on performance in five factors. They are staff and service (including availability, courtesy, knowledge); store facility (including ease of finding merchandise and cleanliness); merchandise (including availability and product information); price; and sales and promotions.
Ace Hardware achieves a score of 781 on a 1,000-point scale and performs particularly well in staff and service and store facility. Lowe's ranks second in the study for the second consecutive year with a score of 769, and performs particularly well in the merchandise factor.
Overall customer satisfaction has declined slightly among all but one of the retailers included in the study. However, high-ranking retailers continue to differentiate themselves through their knowledgeable and courteous staff and shopper-friendly processes like checkout and returns.
"While many retailers have struggled to right-size their staff with the down economy, Ace Hardware and Lowe's clearly have kept the focus on their customers," said Christina Cooley, senior manager of the home improvement industries practice at Westlake Village, Calif.-based J.D. Power and Associates, in a release. "To create delighted customers, home improvement retailers must assist customers quickly, help them find the items that they need, and do this with a customer-friendly attitude."
High customer satisfaction leads to store loyalty with 64% of customers rating their retailer "outstanding" are likely to return to the store or the same chain of hardware stores the next time they shop for home improvement products, compared with just one-fifth of customers not rating their retailer "outstanding" who are likely to do the same.
High-ranking retailers not only have a lower merchandise return rate, but also receive higher satisfaction ratings for their return process. Forty-five percent of customers indicate that they returned merchandise in the past 12 months.
"If retailers' staff are providing the helpful, informative assistance that customers require, there's a less likely chance the customer will have to return the merchandise, which not only keeps the customer satisfied, but also helps to mitigate the inconvenience," said Cooley.
J.D. Power and Associates' social media research also reinforces the study findings, as the main conversations taking place online about home improvement retailers relate to consumer preference for knowledgeable and professional customer service, seeking interaction with sales staff who have professional or real-life experience (rather than seasonal employees) and retailer loyalty and willingness to travel farther for the right advice/service, materials and price.
The study is based on responses from more than 6,100 customers who purchased a home improvement product or service within the previous 12 months from a retail store that sells home improvement products. Customers were asked to evaluate their primary home improvement retailer. The study was fielded in January and February 2012.