Customer satisfaction is highest among home improvement retailers that provide a knowledgeable and readily available staff to address customer needs, according to a new study from J.D. Power & Associates.  While sales and promotions help drive traffic to retail, customer service keeps customers loyal.

For a seventh consecutive year, Ace Hardware ranks highest in satisfying home improvement retail store customers. Ace Hardware achieves a score of 803 on a 1,000-point scale and performs particularly well in the staff and service and store facility factors. Menards ranks second with a score of 770, and performs particularly well in the price and sales and promotions factors.

The study, now in its seventh year, measures customer satisfaction with home improvement retail stores based on performance in five factors: staff and service (including availability, courtesy, knowledge, ease of checkout and ease of returning merchandise); store facility (including ease of finding merchandise, cleanliness, store layout and design, availability of parking and convenience of store location); merchandise (including availability, variety, usefulness of product information displays and selection of brands available); price; and sales and promotions.

Staff and service is the most influential factor on customer satisfaction. For example, the average wait time for assistance at retail remains at about four minutes. However, the wait time for help varies by retailer from less than two minutes to nearly six minutes. More than 80% of customers request help locating a product in the store, reinforcing the importance of having a knowledgeable sales person readily available.

Overall, only 5% of customers experience a problem while shopping at their primary retailer; however, this varies by retailer, with the highest incidence of problems experienced at 12%. In 2013, return rates are down slightly year over year (42% vs. 45% of customers who returned merchandise during the past year).

“By remaining focused on meeting customer needs through superior sales staff and service, home improvement retailers have the opportunity to leverage a positive customer experience into an increased share of wallet and more customer advocates,” said Christina Cooley, director of the home improvement industries practice at J.D. Power.

According to the study, on average 27% of customers say they “definitely will” purchase at their primary retailer  again, and 30% “definitely will” recommend the retailer to others.  However, among the highest ranked retailers these percentages go as high as 32% and 43%, respectively.

The average amount customers spend per year is slightly lower in 2013 at $1,626, compared with $1,719 in 2012, making the competition to capture a greater share of wallet more fierce. Customers spend an average of 73% of their annual spend at their primary home improvement retailer.

While location is a primary driver for customers to select a home improvement retail store, it’s an outstanding experience that keeps them coming back to the store. Notably, retailers performing below average have a higher rate of customers purchasing online at the store’s website compared with higher-performing retailers. Though spend through any channel is positive, this may also indicate that when customers are not satisfied with a retailer’s in-store experience they may avoid going  to the store altogether or choose another retailer with better sales and staff service. Retailers may also miss out on the ancillary purchases made once a customer is in the store.

“Home improvement retailers are continually looking for alternative ways to stay competitive and gain a larger share of wallet,” said Cooley. “Before you can satisfy a customer, you have to create a compelling reason for them to come in the door. Once they arrive, you have many opportunities to delight them with staff assistance and store services.”

Ad-ology Research has discovered that home improvement shoppers – consumers who are interested in DIY, Do-It-For-Me projects, improvements for energy efficiency and restoration, and house “flipping” – are most likely to be between the ages of 25-34 (21.5%), followed by the second most popular age group, 55-64.  When comparing prices, 15.2% of home improvement/restorers believe that emailed news/offers are the most beneficial local news source, followed by 13.3% who said mailed ads/flyers, and 9.4% who said blogs were the most beneficial local news source.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to Ad-ology PRO. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the Audience Intelligence Reports in AdMall.