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Which Big Box Retailers Are Delivering The Best Customer Experience?

· retail,2018

By Tony Giudici

With Thanksgiving upon us, the holiday season is officially here, and that means shopping season too. 

But which big box retailers are making sure to do things right by their customers? Whether it's the holidays or the whole year through, customer experience in the age of technology is even more make-or-break-you than ever.

I found a 2018 List for the top 100 brands delivering the best customer experience by Retail Customer Experience, so let’s take a look at their top three. These are the big players, and the ones that are doing things differently to improve in-store and online experiences for their customers.

You will see a common thread surrounding new technology within both experience, as all of these retailers are tapping into generation Z, a group who craves all things cool and next for a true omni-channel experience.

Customer shopping on Amazon

1. Amazon

Founded: July 1995
Headquarters: Seattle Workforce: 541,900 (as of October 2017)

Quirky tidbit: Its workforce is larger than the population of 63 countries, including the Bahamas and Monaco

In every year that Retail Customer Experience has produced its Top 100 report, Amazon has landed in first place without any real competition, and this year was no different. As an Amazon Prime Customer, shopping is truly, extremely easy and convenient.

Along with no competition, the reasons for the retailer’s continued leadership is simple. It’s providing the fastest response to consumer complaints and the best overall shopping experience, according to Retail Customer Experience dot com survey.

It’s a safe bet that Amazon is not going to be pushed off its perch anytime soon, if at any point. As one industry pundit noted this year, Amazon is not as much a retailer as it is a technology innovator and an innovator that doesn’t sit still, ever.

2. Walmart

Founded: 1962
Headquarters: Bentonville, Arkansas
Workforce: 2.3 million associates worldwide
Retail locations: 5,358 units in U.S. (includes 597 Sam’s Clubs)
Quirky tidbit: Founder Sam Walton is referred to as “Mr. Sam” by Walmart leadership

In last year’s Top 100, Walmart battled against Amazon, the eternal retail leader, and Target, which fell directly behind Walmart into spot number three.

This year, Walmart finds itself exactly where it was a year ago — a long way from displacing leader Amazon, but now facing a new challenger, Costco in the third slot. Yet given that Walmart is the top U.S. brick-and-mortar enterprise, it likely doesn’t have to sweat too hard to keep its perch, at least for a bit.

One reason is that it’s been busy, busy, busy for Walmart is that their e-commerce site, Walmart.com, now offers more than 60 million items compared with 20 million items in 2016.

Not only is Walmart busy filling virtual shelves with new products, it’s also actively advancing a slew of strategies.

The first few months of 2017 brought the Walmart Store No. 8 technology incubator initiative. Now just one year later, Walmart is busy pulling a virtual reality (VR) startup into its ranks to drive VR product development for stores and Walmart.com.

The lab, named in honor of the retailer’s eighth store in Arkansas where founder Sam Walton piloted and tested strategies and innovation, is also focused on technology tied to personalized shopping and delivery advancements, including drones.

The lab’s quest, according to Walmart leaders, is “disrupt ourselves before others disrupt us.”

I must admit that in the past I have never thought of Walmart as a leader in technology and overall customer experience. However their innovation and technology has allowed them to continue to adapt and grow while tapping into a new generation of shoppers. I will be watching this strategy closely.

Satisfied shoppers

3. Costco

Headquarters: Issaquah, Washington
Workforce: 239,000 full and part-time worldwide
Warehouse locations: 748 (As of February 2018)
Membership: 92.2 million cardholders (As of February 2018)
Quirky tidbit: It sells a $6,000 doomsday meal kit

As the Top 100 survey results indicate, delivery is becoming a big focus for today’s consumers. Almost 70 percent of consumers want free shipping and are willing to wait a bit longer to avoid paying for fast free delivery.

Nearly 20 percent, however, expect free same day and two-day options and will go elsewhere if those options aren’t offered.

Like Amazon and its annual Prime membership, Costco also relies heavily on its membership base; according to Seeking Alpha, membership fees account for 75 percent of earnings. That doesn’t seem to be weakening, given last quarter’s renewal rate was 91 percent, a 1 percent increase over the previous three months, despite fee increases during the year.

Those are the top three big box retailers delivering the best all-around customer experience according to Retail Customer Experience. Rounding out the top five were Target, Walgreens and Best Buy.

You can see from the highlights above that technology is playing a major role in the customer experience landscape and in doing so is giving the newest generation (Z of course), exactly what they crave and expect. This group will dominate retail spend by 2021.

Hopefully this gives you some extra insight into your holiday shopping plans. May you have a wonderful and enjoyable season.

Tony Giudici is a Director of Market Development for Excelerate America, the ultimate resource for modern entrepreneurs and small business owners. Do you have a good (or bad!) customer service story about one of the top three big box retailers discussed here? Send him an email at tony.giudici@excelerateamerica.com.

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