If your idea of shopping hell is a trip to Walmart you’re not alone.
According to a survey of more than 8,700 people released Wednesday by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Americans overall satisfaction with retail stores fell 1.4% in 2014, after three years of steady improvements — in part due to rising prices. And some stores (ahem, Walmart, which just scored its worst customer satisfaction rating since 2007, securing the bottom spot on ACSI’s retail customer service ranking) fare worse than others.
The most liked — and disliked — department and discount stores
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While this year, Walmart tied with armed forces store Exchange as the worst-rated department or discount store, in recent past years, it’s been the single worst-scoring store. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, Walmart was the single lowest-scoring department and discount store on the list — a significant departure from 10 to 15 years ago when the store ranked highly.
What’s more, Walmart has the lowest score (68 out of 100) not only among discount/department stores, but also when compared to specialty retail stores like Costco, Gap, Office Depot and Big Lots; supermarkets; health and personal care stores and Internet retailers.
Walmart does score higher in terms of customer satisfaction than do cable companies, many airlines and health insurance companies. And the company says it is committed to improving its relationship with customers: At last year’s annual meeting, President and CEO Doug McMillon noted that one of the company’s three points to drive business going forward would be to “position ourselves to do a better job serving customers … through the combination of what we do with price, assortment, access and experience.”
Plus, a spokesperson for Walmart tells MarketWatch that there have been a number of recent steps that “demonstrate a commitment to listening to our customers,” including adding more registers during peak holiday shopping hours to save customers time last year, the introduction of the company’s Savings Catcher tool to provide consumers with additional savings and the money-back guarantee for customers “dissatisfied with less-than fresh products.”
Still, compared with its direct competitors, Walmart consistently scores low on customer love, so MarketWatch asked the experts to tell us what makes Walmart the most disliked discount/department store in the nation. Here are four reasons.
‘Low-price leader’ Walmart doesn’t always win on prices
While it’s true that you can find thousands of great deals at Walmart — and sometimes the best deals available anywhere — competitors do sometimes offer lower prices on the same or similar items these days, explains David VanAmburg, the managing director of ACSI . And consumers now know that, since it’s easy to do price comparisons these days.
So while one of the main unique selling propositions of Walmart is that it’s a low-price leader, now that it doesn’t always deliver on that promise, customers may be more dissatisfied than they were years ago, explains VanAmburg — especially considering that the shopping experience there isn’t always enjoyable. For example, if you’re looking for wrapping paper and holiday items, you’ll often find cheaper prices at dollar stores, and for books and other media, cheaper prices can often be found on Amazon.
For those set on getting the lowest price, Walmart offers a price match program, whereby if you find the price of an item you bought lower elsewhere, the store will match that price. However, there are exceptions to what prices the store will match, quantities that you can get price matches on, and other exceptions.
Good luck finding what you came in for
Will McKitterick, a retail industry analyst for IBISWorld, notes that one of the main reasons many customers dislike shopping at Walmart is that they have trouble finding what they need thanks to the fact that “some shelves aren’t stocked [correctly], items are missing, shelves are messy, merchandise may be in a different spot than last time [you shopped there].”
In other words, customers find they can’t get in and out of the store as efficiently as they’d like to — and may have to leave without grabbing all the items on their lists — he explains. This may be particularly frustrating because Walmart is, for many, a supposedly one-stop shop (a retailer, grocery store and drugstore in one) for basic household necessities. “It’s not an inviting store experience,” says Matthew Ong, a retail analyst with NerdWallet.com.
To be sure, out-of-stock shelves and missing items may be due to the fact that such items were priced so low that customers bought them out quickly, and Walmart may have changed around the placement of items in an attempt to make them easier to find.
You may get service — but don’t expect it with a smile
Walmart isn’t exactly known for its friendly and helpful employees — and that may be one of the reasons it scores low on the customer satisfaction index, says Ong. He says the customer service problems at the retailer often start with a shopper’s inability to get anyone to help them find what they need, but also includes long waits at the checkout and return lines.
Furthermore, VanAmburg points out that stores like Nordstrom and Trader Joe’s, which consistently end up on lists of “best places to work,” also end up towards the top of customer satisfaction lists, which he says may have to do with the fact that happy employees tend to give good customer service. “The opposite is also the case,” he points out — which may explain why Walmart, which doesn’t tend to top employee satisfaction lists — may have less-than-great customer service.
Merchandise isn’t always up to snuff
While customers know that Walmart is often more about price than quality, they are still sometimes surprised (and not in a good way) about the quality of the merchandise the retailer offers, says Ong. “It has to be worth the purchase price, and customers don’t always feel that,” he says. So even if the item is only a few bucks, if it falls apart or doesn’t work well or something else goes wrong, the customer may feel that they would have been better off paying a little more elsewhere for something else that functioned better.
Walmart does sell plenty of name-brand items — and at low prices — that rank highly, and it’s now relatively easy for consumers to look up customer feedback on products before they buy (the Walmart site features customer reviews, for one).