Retailers challenged with restoring customer satisfaction lost during the pandemic: ACSI report

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / Drazen Zigic
©GettyImages / Drazen Zigic

Related tags ACSI retail channels

Customer satisfaction with the retail sector has hit a low point across most channels particularly supermarkets and online retail hit where consumer sentiment dipped to a five-year low, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s (ACSI) Retail and Consumer Shipping Report 2020-2021.

ACSI’s annual report​ is based on interviews with 70,767 US consumers between Jan. 13, 2020 and Dec. 27, 2020.

Waves of disruption impacted all channels of retail, and customer sentiment declined across the board, reported ACSI.

“From mandatory closures that halted in-person shopping to stock shortages caused by panic buying, retailers experienced anything but business as usual. Deliveries from online retailers were delayed, and customers were frustrated when high-demand items sold out. And it shows, as 86% of the retailers measured suffer downturns in customer satisfaction year over year,” ​said David VanAmburg, managing director at the ACSI.

Online retail challenged

Prior to the pandemic and outside of Amazon and Walmart, many other retailers had been turning up their e-commerce investment. According to ACSI, US sales of grocery delivery and pickup grew from $1.2bn in August 2019 to $5.9bn in November 2020.

“Fueled by the pandemic, Americans hit the gas on online shopping in 2020. As a result, customer satisfaction crashes across the internet retail industry. More opportunities to experience online shopping are giving consumers more opportunities to be disappointed,”​ said ACSI.

ACSI’s internet retail score declined 3.7%, and Amazon, the market leader, dropped out of the running as top performer in the channel with an “all-time”​ low score of 79.

“With a stable score of 78, Target is the only e-commerce retailer to buck the downward ACSI trend. Unlike most other sites, actually manages to improve a handful of customer experience elements, including the usefulness of site-generated recommendations,” ​noted ACSI.

Mixed bag in supermarket performance

As shopping behaviors morphed overnight, many supermarket retailers were left scrambling to keep up with panic buying leading to product shortages – and consumers took notice. And after four years of nearly-stable customer satisfaction, the supermarket industry’s ACSI score dove 2.6% to 76 with 17 of 20 major grocers posting lower scores in 2020 compared to 2019.

“Overall, shoppers find less to be happy about across the entire range of supermarket customer experience elements,”​ notes ACSI.


Retailers that struggled to satisfy customers in 2020 included BJ’s (which dropped 5% to 78), Kroger (-4%), ShopRite (-5%), Southeastern Grocers (-4%), Giant Eagle (-5%), and Albertsons (declining 5% to 71).

Aldi, a top tier performer in 2019, ran into headwinds dropping 4% to a score of 80, tying with Sam’s Club (Walmart).

However, within the supermarket industry were some of the highest scoring individual retailers who managed to achieve scores in the 80s (scores of 80 or above are considered ‘excellent’ by ACSI).

Trader Joe’s topped the supermarket industry satisfaction score rankings – as well as the entire retails sector – with a score of 84.

“The areas where Trader Joe’s does particularly well show no signs of strain. The company continues to knock it out of the park for staff courtesy and helpfulness, and its checkout speed stays best in class,”​ ACSI noted.

Four other supermarket companies – Costco, H-E-B, Publix, and Wegmans – performed very well with scores of 82 that also place them ahead of all other retailers in the sector. Among these stores, Publix ticks off the most wins across the customer experience, including store cleanliness and layout, according to ACSI primary research.

Supermarket customer experience

Among all traditional retail categories, the supermarket customer experience is hurting the most with every measured aspect (store cleanliness, merchandise availability, ease of checkout, etc.) dropping in score compared to the year before, according to ACSI.


Store layout and cleanliness suffered, as did consumer perception of the freshness of meat and produce (both declining 4% to 79). Customers also reported that brand names were scarcer (-2% to 79) and merchandise selection less robust (-3% to 78). Sales and promotions failed to hit the mark as well (declining 4% to a score of 76).

Staff courtesy dropped as well by 4% to 78.

Can retail performance turn around?

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA about the possibility for retailers to gain back customer satisfaction lost due to the pandemic, VanAmburg, said:

While many retailers across the board struggled to maintain high marks for customer satisfaction during the pandemic, there is absolutely an opportunity for both retailers, and supermarkets in particular, to rebound once the pandemic is behind us. This is because much of the drop in satisfaction for each industry can be attributed to the difficulty both retailers and supermarkets faced when attempting to keep inventory for many necessities and desired merchandise on the shelves.”

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