Sam’s Club and Amazon.com Lead Retail Industry in 2014 Temkin Experience Ratings

We recently released the 2014 Temkin Experience Ratings that ranks the customer experience of 268 companies across 19 industries based on a survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers.

Sam’s Club and Amazon.com continue their reign as the highest-rated retailers for the third straight year, each earning an “excellent” rating. Sam’s Club narrowly beat out Amazon.com for the top spot, receiving an 81% rating and an overall rank of 8th out of 268 companies across 19 industries. With ratings of 79% each, Costco, PetSmart, Ace Hardware, and BJ’s Wholesale Club also earned high marks from customers. At the other end of the spectrum, RadioShack and Foot Locker tied for last place among 45 retailers. This is the fourth straight year that RadioShack has been at the bottom of the industry.

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Here are some additional findings from the retail industry: Read more of this post

Report: What Happens After a Good or Bad Experience, 2014

1402_WhatHappensAfterGoodBadExperiences_COVERWe just published a Temkin Group report, What Happens After a Good or Bad Experience, 2014. The report, which includes 19 data charts, examines which companies and industries provide the most bad experiences, what impact those experiences have on spending, and how the negative impacts of bad experiences can be mitigated by good service recovery. The report also examines how consumers share their good and bad experiences with companies as well as with other people. Here’s the executive summary:

To understand the effect of good and bad experiences, we asked 10,000 U.S. consumers about their recent interactions with 268 companies across 19 industries. Results show that Internet services and TV services are the industries most likely to deliver a bad experience to their customers, while grocery chains are the least likely to. At the company level, Scottrade had the smallest percentage of customers reporting a recent bad experience with the company and Time Warner Cable had the highest. More than half of the customers who encountered a bad experience at a fast food chain, credit card issuer, grocery store, or hotel either decreased their spending with the company or stopped altogether. However, our data shows that a good service recovery effort can help mitigate a bad experience. Unfortunately, many firms—especially in the banking, Internet services, and TV services sectors—aren’t very good at service recovery. In addition to the consequences of bad interactions, we also examined which channels customers use to share their good and bad experiences and how these changed across age groups. We then compared these results to survey responses from the past two years. We also uncovered a negative bias inherent in how customers provide feedback. ING Direct, Residence Inn, and Fairfield Inn have the most negative bias in the feedback they receive directly from customers, while Hy-Vee and Hyundai have the most negative bias on Facebook. 

Click link to see full list of industries and companies covered in this report (.pdf).

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One of the most interesting analyses in the report is the look at how service recovery after a bad experience affects the spending pattern of consumers. Here’s a summary of one of the charts showing just how important it is for a company to recover well after making a mistake:

1402_EconomicsOfServiceRecovery

Here are some other insights from the research:

  • Sixteen percent of consumers who have interacted with TV service and Internet service providers report having a bad experience over the previous six months. Next on the list are wireless carriers, with 12% of their customers reporting a bad experience. At the other end of the spectrum, only 3% of consumers report a bad experience with grocery chains and 4% report having a bad experience with fast food chains.
  • The five companies with the most customers reporting bad experiences are Time Warner Cable (25%), Motel 6 (22%), Coventry Health Care (21%), and Comcast (21%). There were 10 companies with only 1% or less of their customers reporting bad experiences: Scottrade, Chick-fil-A, H.E.B., Whole Foods, ShopRite, ING Direct, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Vanguard, and True Value.
  • More than one-quarter of consumers who have a bad experience stop spending with computer makers, car rental agencies, credit card issuers, hotel chains, and software companies. The impact of bad experiences is less costly for parcel delivery services, wireless carriers, health plans, TV service providers, Internet service providers, and grocery chains, as less than 15% of their customers with bad experience stopped spending.
  • The industries that are the best at responding to a bad experience are investment firms, major appliances, retailers, and car rental agencies. The industries that are the worst at responding to a bad experience are TV service providers, wireless carriers, Internet service providers, parcel delivery services, and health plans.
  • Thirty-two percent of consumers give feedback directly to companies after a very bad experience and 23% give feedback after a very good experience.
  • Overall, 25- to 34-year-olds are the most likely to share feedback about their experiences. After a good experience 57% tell a friend directly, 28% share on Facebook, and 18% put a comment or rating on a review site. After a bad experience, 60% tell a friend directly, 31% share on Facebook, and 20% write a review.

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The bottom line: Make sure to recover quickly after a bad experience

Sam’s Club and Amazon.com Lead Retail Industry in 2013 Temkin Experience Ratings

We recently released the 2013 Temkin Experience Ratings that ranks the customer experience of 246 companies across 19 industries based on a survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers. Here are highlights from the retail industry:

  • The average industry rating increased from 71% in 2012 to 74% in 2013.
  • Sixteen of the 24 retailers that were in both the 2012 and 2013 ratings showed improvement.
  • Three of the top 10 companies across all industries are retailers: Amazon.com and Sam’s Club (tied for #5 overall), and Ace Hardware (#7 overall). Sam’s Club was the leader in 2012 Temkin Experience Ratings and Amazon.com led in 2011.
  • Radio Shack is the lowest-rated retailer for the third consecutive year and 191st overall in 2013. The retailer is also the lowest scoring across all three underlying components, functional, accessible, and emotional.
  • Amazon.com and Costco are the top rated in the functional component, Ace Hardware is the top rated in the accessible component, and Nordstrom is the top in the emotional component.
  • Office Depot (increase of 11 percentage points) and Barnes & Noble (increase of eight percentage points) made the largest improvements in the industry from 2012.
  • JCPenney (decrease of six percentage points), Sam’s Club (decrease of four percentage points), and Lowe’s (decrease of four percentage points) had the largest declines from 2012.
  • Here’s a link to industry results from the 2012 ratings.

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Temkin Ratings website

Report: 2013 Temkin Experience Ratings

Temkin Ratings website

2013TemkinExperienceRatings_Cover

We published the 2013 Temkin Experience Ratings. The report analyzes feedback from 10,000 U.S. consumers to rate 246 organizations across 19 industries. Congratulations to the top firms in this year’s ratings: Publix, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Chick-fil-A, Amazon.com, and Sam’s Club.

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You can also download the data for $395.

The Temkin Experience Ratings are based on evaluating three elements of experience:

  1. Functional: How well do experiences meet customers’ needs?
  2. Accessible: How easy is it for customers to do what they want to do?
  3. Emotional: How do customers feel about the experiences?

Here are the top and bottom companies in the ratings:

2013TER_BestWorstHere’s how the industries compare with each other:

(NOTE: We have published posts on the detailed results for all 19 industries)

2013TER_IndustriesHere are the companies that are leaders and laggards across the 19 industries:

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In this year’s ratings, 37% of companies earned “good” or “excellent” scores, while 28% are rated as “poor” or ”very poor.” Companies with at least a “good” rating grew by nine-percentage points since 2012 and by 21-points since 2011. Of the 203 companies that are included in both the 2012 and 2013 Temkin Experience Ratings, 57% firms had at least a modest increase. The companies that made the largest improvement over 2012 are Citibank, TriCare, TD Ameritrade, Office Depot, EarthLink, Hardees, and Regions Bank.

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Get the Data

Do you want to see all of the data? You can purchase an excel spreadsheet for $395…

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To view all of our ratings (experience, loyalty, trust, forgiveness, customer service, and web experience), visit the Temkin Ratings website

Temkin Ratings website

The bottom line: Customer experience is improving, but there’s still a long way to go

Report: Net Promoter Score Benchmark Study, 2012

We just published a Temkin Group report, Net Promoter Score Benchmark Study, 2012. It provides NPS data on 175 U.S. companies across 19 industries. Here’s the executive summary:

USAA took the top two spots for its banking and insurance businesses while HSBC came in at the bottom for banking and credit cards. Our analysis of differences across consumer demographic segments showed that NPS tends to go up with age, doesn’t vary much by income levels, and is often highest with Asians. We also asked consumers what would make them more likely to recommend the companies and found that promoters are more likely to select lower prices and detractors are more likely to select better customer service. While there is some debate about the efficacy of NPS, our analysis shows that promoters are much more likely than detractors to purchase more in the future across all industries. To help you implement a successful NPS program, we’ve included eight tips such as don’t believe in an “ultimate question” and use control charts, not pinpointed goals. The industries included in this report are airlines, auto dealers, banks, computer makers, credit card issuers, fast food chains, grocery chains, health plans, hotel chains, insurance carriers, Internet service providers, investment firms, major appliance makers, parcel delivery services, rental car agencies, retailers, software firms, TV service providers, and wireless carriers.

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(includes the data)

The industries included in this report are airlines, auto dealers, banks, computer makers, credit card issuers, fast food chains, grocery chains, health plans, hotel chains, insurance carriers, Internet service providers, investment firms, major appliance makers, parcel delivery services, rental car agencies, retailers, software firms, TV service providers, and wireless carriers.

The report contains the following components:

  • NPS for 175 companies across 19 industries
  • NPS differences based on age, income, and ethnicity of consumers
  • Improvement areas selected by promoters and detractors by industry
  • Connection between NPS and future purchases by industry
  • Eight tips for implementing a successful NPS program

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(Includes the data)

The bottom line:  Companies need to give customers a reason to recommend them

2012 Temkin Web Experience Ratings

Temkin Group has just released the 2012
We introduced the Temkin Web Experience Ratings last year. The 2012 Web Experience Ratings include 159 companies from 18 industries and is based on a survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers.

Congratulations to the top firms in this year’s ratings: Amazon, credit unions, USAA, PNC, Southwest Airlines, eBay, Sam’s Club, ShopRite, JCPenney, and ING Direct. Of course, not every company has earned good web experience, especially the companies at the bottom of the 2012 ratings:  Charter Communications, Humana, Qwest, Cigna, Time Warner Cable, Anthem, Road Runner, Medicare, Blue Shield of CA, and TracFone.

We also  examined industry averages and found that banks and investment firms have earned the highest Temkin Web Experience Ratings followed by hotel chains and retailers. But consumers gave very low ratings to Internet service providers, health plans, and TV service providers.

The research also examines how individual companies are rated relative to their industry peers. The following 11 firms outscored their industry average Temkin Web Experience Ratings by 10 percentage points or more: Kaiser Permanente, Amazon, ShopRite, Southwest Airlines, USAA, Starbucks, H.E.B., Publix, credit unions, Marriott, and Apple.

The following 15 companies fell 10 percentage points or more below their industry averages: Wells Fargo Advisors, AAA, Charter Communications, Delta Airlines, Citibank, Bank of America, Humana, TracFone, Qwest, Old Navy, U.S. Airways, Rite Aid, Kohl’s, Kmart, and Charter Communications.

Temkin Group also analyzed changes from the 2011 Temkin Web Experience Ratings. Led by TV service providers and insurance carriers 11 of the 12 industries that were in both the 2011 and 2012 ratings improved since last year.

Seventy-two percent of companies that were in the 2011 and 2012 Temkin Web Experience Ratings showed improvement. Led by Comcast (Internet and TV service), Allstate, AOL, Charter Communications, Toshiba, and Sam’s Club, 20 companies improved by 10 percentage points or more between 2011 and 2012. Only three companies­— Kohl’s, TracFone, and Rite Aid—declined by 10 percentage points or more during that timeframe.

Do you want to see the data? Go to the Temkin Ratings website where you can sort through all of the results for free. You can even purchase the underlying data if you want to get more access.

The bottom line: Web experience is not good enough for how important it is

Temkin Experience Ratings Spotlight: Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club may not jump in your mind when you think about excellent customer experience… but it should. The retailer earned the highest score in the 2012 Temkin Experience Ratings.

To understand how Sam’s Club made it to the top of the ratings, we spoke with Bala Subramanian, VP of Global Customer Insights.

According to Subramanian “We are a membership organization. Our members pay to belong and pay for the privilege of shopping in our club. It behooves us to understand their needs and be proactive in delivering against those needs and creating a streamlined, positive shopping experience.”

It turns out that this is not a story about designing “wow” experiences or building a dedicated customer experience team, but Sam’s Club focused on customer experience in a way that was consistent with its DNA: embedding it into its ongoing operations. As I discussed a few years ago in the post Customer Experience And The Zen Of Brands, customer experience success does not come from creating Disney-esque events. Great customer experience comes from consistently delivering on brand promises that resonate with customers.

Sam’s Club started a customer experience measurement system two years ago when it decided to measure the customer with the same rigor that it measured financial performance. Subramanian said: “We have a culture of caring about what’s in the mind of the members and a maniacal focus on measurement.”

The measurement framework is fairly simple. Each of Sam’s Club’s 600+ stores gets a monthly score they call the “Member Experience Track” (MET) which covers three areas: In-club operations, Merchandising, and Membership. Underneath those three areas are more than 150 individual attributes that the company tracks. Each store has an overall rating of red (bad), yellow (“okay”), or green (“good”) based on surveys completed by members.

At monthly meetings, the executive team reviews a dashboard that highlights the number of stores in each category (red, yellow, green), looks at key issues driving problems across stores, and also looks at the top 20 and bottom 20 stores. This is a powerful tool for motivating store managers, as Subramanian says: “You don’t want to be called out on the bottom as a member of the ‘Red Club.'”

The MET is very visible throughout Sam’s Club. The scores are embedded into the bonus plans across the company. And if you walk into break rooms or associate training rooms within individual stores, you’ll find a chart showing whether the store is red, yellow, or green on all of the attributes. Stores are sent verbatims about any negative experiences on a daily basis and local stores are expected to contact those members (if they’ve given their permission) within 24 hours.

What’s coming up next for Sam’s Club efforts? Text analytics.

The bottom line: Sam’s Club embeds customer experience measurement into its every day operations

2012 Temkin Forgiveness Ratings

Temkin Group has just released the 2012
Every company makes mistakes now and then, but how willing are customers to forgive the company when it happens? Forgiveness is a valuable asset that companies earn by consistently meeting customers’ needs.

We introduced the Temkin Forgiveness Ratings last year to gauge which companies are earning this important element of loyalty. The 2012 Temkin Forgiveness Ratings include 206 companies from 18 industries and is based on a survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers.

Congratulations to the top firms in this year’s ratings: USAA, Hyatt, credit unions, H.E.B., Hy-Vee, Dollar Rent A Car, Chick-fil-A, PublixCostco, and Amazon.com. Of course, not every company enjoys such a high degree of forgiveness from their customers, especially the companies at the bottom of the 2012 ratings: Citigroup, Charter Communications, HSBCChrysler dealers, EarthLink, Bank of America, Comcast, Quest, and US Airways.

We also examined industry averages and found that grocery chains have earned the most forgiveness from consumers followed by retailers, appliance makers, and parcel delivery services. But consumers are not very likely to forgive mistakes by credit card issuers, Internet service providers, and TV service providers.

We examined how individual companies are rated relative to their industry peers. USAA holds the top two spots, outpacing its credit card and banking peers by more than 30 percentage points. USAA also outpaces the insurance industry by more than 20 percentage points. Credit unions, Hyatt, US Cellular, Dollar Rent A Car, Chick-fil-A, and Bright House Networks are also more than 15 percentage points above their industry averages. Five companies fall 15 or more percentage points below their industry’s average Temkin Forgiveness Ratings: Chrysler dealers, Citigroup, Travelers, Charter Communications, and RadioShack.

We also analyzed changes from the 2011 Temkin Forgiveness Ratings. The research shows that consumers are more forgiving this year than they were last year. Led by banks and insurance carriers, all 12 industries that were in both the 2011 and 2012 Temkin Forgiveness Ratings showed improvement.
Sixty-eight of the 139 companies that were in the 2011 and 2012 Temkin Forgiveness Ratings earned double-digit improvements and four companies improved by more than 25 percentage points: TD Ameritrade, Lenovo, USAA, and credit unions. Ten companies lost ground over the last year with the biggest drops coming for Citigroup, Continental Airlines, Travelers, Sears, Holiday Inn Express, and The Hartford.

Do you want to see the data? Go to the Temkin Ratings website where you can sort through all of the results for free. You can even purchase the underlying data if you want to get more access.

The bottom line: To err is possible, to earn forgiveness is divine

Sam’s Club and Amazon Deliver Best Customer Experience in Retail

This post examines the 24 retailers included in the 2012 Temkin Experience Ratings.

Sam’s Club was the top rated company across all industries and only one of eight organizations with an “excellent” rating. Five other retailers were in the top 20 positions in the overall rankings: Amazon.com (#10), Target (#14), Walgreens (#14), BJs Wholesale Club (#18), and Lowe’s (#18).

The retail industry received the third highest average customer experience rating, falling only behind grocery chains and fast food restaurants. Despite the strong performance of the industry, one retailer, RadioShack, earned a “poor” rating while seven other retailers at the bottom of the list received “okay” ratings: Office Depot, eBay, Barnes & Noble, Sears, Kmart, Best Buy, and Macy’s. The remaining retailers earned “good” ratings.

While most industries showed improvement between 2011 and 2012, retailers were one of four industries that registered a slight decline. Sam’s Club and Toys “R” Us are the only two retailers with more than a five-point increase in their ratings between 2011 and 2012. Kohl’s and Costco are the only two retailers with more than a five-point decrease in their ratings between 2011 and 2012.

Do you want to see the data? Go to the Temkin Ratings website where you can sort through all of the results for free. You can even purchase the underlying data if you want to get more access.

The bottom line: There’s a wide gap between good and bad in retail CX

Amazon.com Leads, RadioShack Lags Retail Customer Experience

In the 2011 Temkin Experience Ratings, we examined the customer experience across 12 industries. Retail is the highest rated industry with an average rating of “good.” Here are the results for all 27 retailers that we rated…

As you can see, Amazon.com and Kohl’s are the only retailers with “excellent” ratings. At the other end of the spectrum, RadioShack is the only retailer with a “poor” rating. There are some interesting differences on the list:

  • Gap can learn from its much higher scoring “sister brand” Old Navy
  • Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJs Wholesale all score highly
  • Walgreens outpaces Rite Aid and CVS
  • Kohl’s has a five point gap over Target
  • Lowe’s has a six point gap over Home Depot 
  • Wal-Mart has a six point gap over Kmart

Let’s take a look at the three components of the Temkin Experience Ratings…

Costco and Amazon.com are the top retailers when it comes to the functional element of experience while Kohl’s  is the top-performing retailer when it comes to accessible experience. Best Buy falls below the good line for “functional” experience while Gap and Radio Shack fall below the good line for “functional” and “accessible” experience. All three of those laggards also score poorly when it comes to “emotional” experience.

The bottom line: Not all retailers are created equal

Report: 2011 Temkin Loyalty Ratings

We just published a new Temkin Group report, 2011 Temkin Loyalty Ratings.

The report identifies the level of loyalty that US consumers have for 143 organizations across 12 industries.

Here’s the executive summary:

Amazon.com, Kohl’s, and Costco took the top spots in the 2011 Temkin Loyalty Ratings. We asked 6,000 US consumers to rate their level of loyalty to companies across three components: purchasing additional products and services, reluctance to switch business away, and likelihood to recommend the company to friends and relatives. This data allowed us to rate 143 companies across 12 industries. Only 17% of those companies received a “strong” or “very strong” loyalty rating. The results show that retailers have the highest level of loyalty while TV service providers and health plans have the lowest.

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First of all, let me give a shoutout to the five companies with the highest ratings, indicating that they have the most loyal customers:

  • 1. Amazon.com
  • 2. Kohl’s
  • 3. Costco
  • 4. (tie) Lowe’s
  • 4. (tie) Sam’s Club

Here’s a list of the top 20 companies in the ratings. Click on the graphic below or click right here if you want to see the results for all 143 companies.

The Temkin Loyalty Ratings are calculated by examining three levels of loyalty that companies have earned from consumers: willingness to buy more products, reluctance to switch business away from, and likelihood to recommend those companies.

Overall, consumers don’t have a strong degree of loyalty across many industries. Retailers, by far, earn the highest levels of loyalty. TV Service providers and Internet Service providers, on the other hand, have earned woefully little loyalty with consumers.

Here are some of the other findings from the research:

  • Results versus industry averagesLed by USAA (insurance and credit cards), TriCare (health plans), credit unions (banks), and Southwest Airlines, 12 companies had double-digit advantages in loyalty over their industry. At the other end of the spectrum, Radio Shack (retailers), Super 8 (hotel chains), and Gap (retailers) led 18 companies with loyalty scores at least 10 points below their industry averages.
  • “Recommending” leaders and laggardsLed by Costco and Amazon.com, 36 companies have “very strong” ratings for consumers that are likely to recommend them to friends and colleagues. At the other end of the spectrum, Charter Communications, Anthem, and Comcast are the only firms with a “very weak” rating in this area.
  • “Switching” leaders and laggards. While no companies have very strong ratings for customers that are reluctant to switch, TriCare and USAA lead the five companies that have a “strong” rating in this area. Blue Shield Of California and Lenovo are at the low-end of the spectrum along with 12 other companies that have negative ratings in this area.
  • “Repurchasing” leaders and laggards. When it comes to having customers who are likely to purchase something else from them, Amazon.com and Old Navy lead 21 companies with “very strong” loyalty ratings in this area. HSBC and Charter Communications are two of the seven companies that didn’t even cross the 20% mark in this area.

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For access to more data, you can visit Temkin Ratings Website.

Now that we’ve published the Temkin Loyalty Ratings and the Temkin Experience Ratings, we’re analyzing the correlation between the two datasets. Look for out upcoming report: Customer Experience And Loyalty: Connecting The Dots

The bottom line: Loyalty is up for grabs!

The 2011 Temkin Experience Ratings

We just published a new Temkin Group report, 2011 Temkin Experience Ratings. Congratulations to the top five companies (out of 143 in the ratings):

1) Amazon.com
2) Kohl’s
3) Costco
4) Lowe’s
4) Sam’s Club

The ratings evaluate 143 large organizations across 12 industries based on feedback from 6,000 US consumers.

Download report for FREE

The Temkin Experience Ratings are based on evaluating three elements of experience:

  1. Functional: How well do experiences meet consumers’ needs?
  2. Accessible: How easy is it for consumers to do what they want to do?
  3. Emotional: How do consumers feel about the experiences?

Here are the top 20 companies in the ratings:

Here are the results for the 12 industries:

Here are some interesting findings from the report:

  • 15 of the top 20 firms are retailers. The exceptions are three hotel chains (Marriot, Hyatt, and Courtyard By Marriott), one bank (Regions), and an insurance company (USAA).
  • Anthem is at the bottom of the list along with six other health plans that are in the bottom 13. Comcast and Charter Communications each show-up twice in the bottom six spots.
  • Only 24 companies ended up with “excellent” or “good” ratings.
  • When we compare company ratings with their industry averages, three companies outperformed their peers by at least 10 points: TriCare (health plan), USAA (insurance and credit cards), and Regions (bank).

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Are you interested in getting a deeper look at the data? Or do you want to see the differences across age, ethnicity, education, and income segments? Then you should visit Temkin Ratings at www.temkinratings.com.

The bottom line: Customer experience excellence is in short supply.

Barnes & Noble Leads Retailers In Customer Experience

My research plan for Forrester’s 2010 Customer Experience Index (CxPi) includes an analysis of all 14 industries in the rankings. I recently published the retail analysis which examines the 25 retailers (out of 133 total companies) in the CxPi. Here are the overall results: 

As a group, the retailers did quite well; grabbing 12 out of the top 20 spots in the rankings. Retailers also showed a modest improvement over the 2008 CxPi. Here are some insights from looking at the retail results:

  • The best retail customer experience. At the top of the list, 7 retailers ended up with “excellent” ratings: Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kohl’s, JCPenney, Macy’s, BJs Wholesale Club, and Costco Wholesale.
  • The worst retail customer experience. At the bottom of the list, 2 retailers ended up with “okay” ratings: Office Depot and Marshalls.
  • Best Buy & Macy’s got better. When we compared the 2010 results with those of the 2008 CxPi, we found that nine retailers improved. Best Buy and Macy’s made the largest gains. Going in the other direction, Toys “R” Us, Old Navy, Borders, and Staples had the largest declines.
  • Wal-Mart and  Office Depot aren’t enjoyable. The CxPi contains three underlying components: 1) meeting needs, 2) being easy to work with, and 3) enjoyability. There were only 2 ratings that fell below “okay” in any of those three areas: Both Wal-Mart and Office Depot received “poor” ratings for “enjoyability.”
  • iTunes is most difficult to work with. 24 of the retailers received “good” or “excellent” ratings in the second area, being easy to work with. The lone exception: Apple iTunes received only an “okay” rating.

The bottom line: Retailers are good, but not great in customer experience

Wal-Mart Slaps On Tech Support

Wal-Mart has started to sell technical service plans for setting up and using TVs and PCs. Rather than building up in-house capabilities, Wal-Mart will sell third-party services from N.E.W. Customer Service Companies.

My take: Wal-Mart’s move fills a gap in it’s offering; helping customers install the products they buy. But the ideal service scenario starts before a purchase and continues on after installation and setup. So Wal-Mart will eventually need to do more than sell another company’s tech support bundles. To sell higher-end consumer electronics, it will need to bolster its in-store service and deeply integrate support throughout a customer’s lifecycle.

With Best Buy and Apple boosting their technical support capabilities, consumers will increasingly look for more guidance and support from their consumer electronics retailers. And my research has shown that customers who chose retailers based on their service are much more loyal than those that are just looking for low prices.

The bottom line: High-end electronics need integrated support.

Wal-Mart And Amazon Book Battle — Blah!

Wal-Mart and Amazon.com are battling toe-to-toe in the book market. Shortly after Wal-Mart announced plans to sell 10 new books for $10 apiece yesterday, Amazon.com announced that it was matching the price. Wal-Mart responded by saying that it would sell the books for $9.

Wal-Mart is serious. According to Walmart.com’s CEO Raul Vazquez:

If there is going to be a ‘Wal-Mart of the Web,’ it is going to be Walmart.com. Our goal is to be the biggest and most visited retail Web site.

My take: Maybe it makes sense to aggressively compete for book buyers with low, low price. I can see the rationale for this strategy: Books are already a commodity, so why not cut prices and build scale so you can squeeze cost from the supply chain and cross-sell other products. But that’s a very boring and uncreative strategy.

So how would I go after this market?

I’d add value to the overall experience. The first step would be to uncover the unmet needs, wants, and desires of different segments of book buyers. This would include ethnographic studies of how consumers buy, use, and discuss books as well as an examination of successful independent book stores. I would then use this information to create experiences that would reduce some of the price sensitivity

Even without the research, I can already think of potential options for creating value for some segments of book buyers:

  • The Reading Plan (return a purchased book for a specific price based on how long they keep it and the condition of the book when it is returned. Return could be cash or credit towards another book).
  • Usage Price Plan (the price of a book takes into account the return price; buyer agrees to return it in a certain time in a certain condition).
  • Author Appreciation Plan (buy a book from an author and you can return it for a significant discount on another book by that same author).
  • Book Loyalty Club (buy “x” books and you get the next one for free.)
  • Virtual Book Club (earn points based on book purchase and turn points in for experiences like presentations from authors, books with personalized signatures from the author, discussions and lectures from literary figures and professors, and early access to new books).
  • The NetFlix Plan (pay a fixed fee for a certain number of books you have out at a time. Maintain a queue online and get the next book in the queue after you send back your current book).

The bottom line: Book buying experiences don’t need to be a commodity.

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