L.L. Bean Jumps To No. 1 In Customer Love

L.L. Bean's folksy formula--complete with user-friendly snowshoes, monogrammed backpacks and that no-nonsense "satisfaction guaranteed, since 1916" philosophy--is paying off. Consumers named the company No. 1 in customer satisfaction, up from third place in the previous year, reports the National Retail Federation.

The Freeport, Maine-based company, judged the best across all formats, is the only "old-school" retailer in the top five this year. Internet shoe giant Zappos.com came in second, Amazon.com third, Overstock.com fourth and Newegg.com tenth. Multichannel retailers Blair ranked fifth, Sears-owned Lands' End sixth, Coldwater Creek, seventh, Nordstrom, eighth, and Lane Bryant ninth.

Last year, Amazon ranked No. 1, followed by Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, Overstock.com and Lane Bryant. But favoritism is fleeting: Four of last year's Top 10--Boscov's, Kohl's, REI, and Macy's--have fallen off this year's list entirely.

The poll, conducted by BIGResearch, also revealed shifting consumer expectations, with shoppers demanding the most from restaurants and specialty stores. (Both types of retailers rated 4.4 out of 5.0.) They lower the bar a little for department stores (4.1), drug stores (4.0), grocery (3.9), Internet retailers (3.8) and membership warehouse clubs (3.7). And they expect the least--just 3.4--from discount stores.

The survey, which polled 8,877 consumers, asked the open-ended question, "Which retailer delivers the best customer service?" In order to develop a fair comparison, regardless of a retailer's size or geographic coverage, the trade group says, responses were compared to each retailer's 2006 revenues to develop the overall rankings.

Separately, the NRF announced that total retail sales for December (excluding automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) rose 1.7% over last year, and actually slipped 0.4% on a seasonally adjusted basis from November. And it also says that November retail industry sales were revised downward to 4.7% growth, from 5.1% reported last month.

Add it all up, and you've got a 2007 holiday sales period of $469.9 billion, a 3% gain from the prior year and weaker than the 4% forecast.

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