Home values are heading up, which is boosting the economy, benefiting from it, or -- in a virtuous cycle -- doing both. People are also spending more at home improvement stores as they look to sell or upgrade.
So which retailer is doing best at pleasing this wave of post-recessionary customers? For the seventh year in a row, Ace Hardware ranks highest in J.D. Power & Assoc.'s Home Improvement Retailer Satisfaction Study.
In the study, also in its seventh year, the chain secured a score of 803 out of 1,000 and did especially well in staff and service and store facility.
In March this year, the retailer-owned hardware co-op redid its marketing mantra with a new tag, “Meet the Aces”, and a return to its old jingle “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man,” replacing "man" with “folks” (they’ve gotten more correct). Second place goes to Menards, which did well in price, sales and promotions.
J.D. Power’s study measures home improvement retail satisfaction based on staff and service parameters like availability, courtesy, and knowledge; facility, which includes ease of finding merchandise and cleanliness; merchandise; price; and sales and promotions.
Staff and service are most important, per the market research firm. Average wait time for assistance is about four minutes across all of the players, but there's big variation chain by chain, from two to six minutes.
The study says that while only 5% of customers experience problems shopping at the primary retailer, this also varies a lot, with the highest being 12%, although this year the average rate is down slightly.
Twenty-seven percent of customers say they "definitely will" purchase at their primary retailer and 30% say they definitely will recommend the retailer to others, per the firm. Also, customers spend about 73% of their annual spend at their primary home improvement retailer, per the firm.
And although one might think it's a location business -- and J.D. Power says it is, to some extent, a retailer’s proximity to a customer that keeps the customer circling back -- stellar experience clinches it. And not-so-stellar service may not send consumers away from the retail brand, but it does tend to make them shun the bricks and shop the digital store instead.
And J.D. Power points out that the rush to digital hurts revenue because, as most consumers know, when you stroll the aisles, your hands take on a life of their own: you notice items that you really want or -- perhaps rationalizing -- decide you suddenly also need. With Web shopping, says the firm, all of that extra revenue from physical store sales vanishes.
Per Christina Cooley, director of J.D. Power & Associates' Home Improvement practice, the average amount spent this year is $1,626 this year versus $1,719 in 2012.