Which? recently announced the results of their annual poll of customer satisfaction with 100 high street stores. The consumer campaigner’s survey took place in February and March, and asked nearly 15,000 people in the UK about their high street retail experiences over the previous six months. The shoppers were asked to rate each recently visited store, based on their latest visit, in terms of price, range and quality of products, service, store environment and after-sales service or returns. This gave a total satisfaction score which was then combined with how likely they were to recommend that store to a friend, giving an overall customer score that was used to build the league table.
Coming out on top was Apple, with consumers giving Apple Stores in the UK an overall satisfaction score of 85 per cent, praising it for its “unique look and feel” and great customer service. The brand’s 37 stores were also described as having ‘great atmosphere and products’ and ‘excellent, knowledgeable’ staff.
It seems hard to even begin to compare a shiny and top of the range technology vendor like Apple to a store like WHSmith, which sits down at the bottom of the league table with a score of 51 per cent overall satisfaction, just below EE (previously Orange) stores and TK Maxx.
WHSmith has a totally different and very wide range of products to sell, but could probably do with looking at why this well known high street retailer is seen as ‘messy and expensive’ by consumers, especially as it has done so badly for the fourth consecutive year: of the 100 brands surveyed it was the most disliked. Even so, WHSmith still managed £69m of pre-tax profits by the end of February 2013, a rise of 5 per cent.
WHSmith pointed out that 12 million customers pass through their stores each week: “Customers vote with their feet, as evidenced by our continuing strong performance and the number of new stores that we are opening in the UK this year to support the UK high street.”
In one surprise result, John Lewis slipped just out of the top five for the first time since the Which? survey began, but is still named as the “best department store”. Like many other stores in the survey, John Lewis also has an online store. Just over half of the shoppers taking part said that they choose to buy products online, but still prefer shopping in the high street to visiting retail parks, shopping centres or websites. It was unclear whether people visited shops to check out merchandise before purchase online from the same retailer or elsewhere, but over a third of respondents stated that they still spend more money in real-world shops than online. People want to shop in their high street; 88% of respondents were upset at the closure of familiar and established UK retail chains, and over 81% were concerned about how many units are closing on UK high streets.
As Which? executive director Richard Lloyd pointed out: “Consumers want to support their local stores, but not at any price, so whether they are chains or independent we hope shops do the right thing to keep their customers and hold back the decline of the high street.”
It’s a combination of good customer service and keen pricing that are still the key elements to attract customers, along with investment in fresh retail design, as evidenced by Apple stores taking the top spot. Even in tricky economic times it seems that retailers need to be careful not to cut costs in the wrong places, and stay aware that the look and feel of their stores is important.
And here are the shops which came out top and bottom of the league table:
1. Apple Store, 85%
2. Lush (last year’s winner) 82%
3. Disney Store and Richer Sounds, jointly on 80%
5. Bonmarché, 79%
Just slightly behind the top five on the list were The Body Shop (76%), Dunelm Mill, Waterstones, John Lewis, Lakeland, Evans Cycles, and Early Learning Centre (all on 75%).
96. Independent department stores were joint with Millets, the outdoor equipment supplier, 57%
98. TK MAXX discount store, 56%
99. EE (Orange & T-Mobile) 55%
100. WHSmith, 51%