Consumers chose Ikea as their favorite furnishings retailer, beating out HomeGoods 75% to 63%, according to an emailed press release from Market Force. In the annual consumer study, Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond tied for third with 61%. Walmart took up the rear with 43%. The study looked at several store attributes including merchandise variety, store layout, value and customer service. While Ikea earned top marks for merchandise, service and value, Target won for best store layout.
In home improvement, Ace Hardware took first place, with 68% of the consumer vote, followed by Menards and Lowe's, with 57% and 54%, respectively. The Home Depot got fourth place with 53% of the vote and Walmart again came in last with 36% of the consumer vote. In fact, Ace landed first in all seven categories, winning the most outstanding marks for store cleanliness, checkout speed and store layout. Walmart came in last place for all categories, with the exception of value.
As seen by the results of both the furnishings and home improvement categories, customer service still holds a lot of weight in the consumer decision-making process. "Service is of the utmost importance in any retail situation, but particularly in the larger-format stores that are commonplace in home furnishings and home improvement," Brad Christian, chief customer officer for Market Force, said in a press release.
When examining consumers' choices for their favorite home retailers, it's clear customer service and experience are two large determining factors. Most of the big-box retailers in the Market Force study offer a large variety of merchandise and many have spent time and money in the last few years to improve their online shopping experience, but those that stood out excelled in staff knowledge and convenience.
Despite the lure of a good price, a positive shopping experience is still important to most U.S. shoppers and a lot of that process can be improved (or worsened) by sales associates. According to an InMoment study reported in Forbes, a customer's positive experience with the retailers' staff can increase satisfaction by 33%, and could lead to higher brand loyalty.
On the flip side, a poor experience can mean the end of a customer altogether. According to a 2017 study, originally published in Business Insider, more than half of consumers (54%) stopped doing business with a company due to bad customer service.
"While Ikea earned the highest marks for its large variety of merchandise at a good value, what really sets it apart is that it has an attentive and knowledgeable sales staff that helps shoppers find what they need. That's especially important in large-format stores like these where shoppers want guidance, so they're not left wandering around," Christian told Retail Dive in an email.
On the flip side, Walmart scored only half as many points for customer service, and ranked low for value as well. "This shows value doesn't just come down to dollar amounts, but that shoppers want to feel as if they're getting a lot for their money," Christian wrote.
Moving forward, the home retail vertical is expected to continue its growth as the low unemployment rates and income tax reductions leave consumers with extra cash for improving homes. However, traditional players like Ace, Home Depot and Target will have to continually update customer service and keep up with staff training in order to compete with online retailers like Amazon, and in the future they could be opening fewer stores, Christian added.