To see more results from the ACSI for other retailer types, including the rest of the stores we visited, click here.

“It’s certainly true that it’s important for the customer to feel there are employees willing to engage them,” said ACSI Managing Director David VanAmburg. “But beyond that there are other elements: knowing when you do need help, you can find someone, and once you do find someone, that employee is courteous, professional, knowledgeable and helpful.”

Our footage raises the question of whether consumers should have to ask for help if sales associates are nearby, available, and able to help. It also raises the questions about workers who are stocking shelves and their role in customer contact. On multiple occasions, at all stores, we were ignored by workers stocking shelves. 

VanAmburg viewed clips of our footage at the 25 retailers we visited.

“In a lot of cases retailers expect us to be savvy about our shopping, that we know where things are at, that we will ask for help,” VanAmburg said.

Walmart was unhappy that we did not include its greeters in our calculations of customer contact.

“We have a long history of greeting customers when they come into our stores, and our greeters, many of whom are recognizable figures in their community, do a great job,” said Molly Philhours, spokeswoman for Walmart.

We did not include greeters because we wanted to assess a level playing field of what happens when a consumer crosses the threshold of a store and needs help on the store selling floor.  

Of the five Walmarts we visited, only two had greeters present, and neither one offered to assist us in finding a specific area of the store or product.

Greeters, according to Van Amburg, don’t necessarily have an effect on the overall shopping experience.

“If a greeter is immediately asking you what department or what area of the store they might be able to direct you to, that has practical value to the shopper,” VanAmburg said.  “If a greeter is simply giving you a smile and a hello, as nice as that gesture might be, there is no practical value in terms of your ability to shop efficiently at the store.”

We sent video clips of all our visits to the respective retailers, along with the following questions:

  • What does your company consider "customer contact"?
  • What are the customer contact goals for your stores?  For example - customers should be in the store, on average, no longer than (x) mins/secs before having contact with a sales associate?
  • Are there metrics to measure customer contact?
  • Are employees engaged in stocking shelves exempt from those goals?
  • Are employees engaged in stocking shelves trained not to engage customers?

Here are the responses, in full, as provided to us from each retailer:

PUBLIX

“Thank you for the opportunity to review your hidden camera footage and for the opportunity to respond."

"With more than 1068 Publix locations across five states, focused on customer service and quality products, we sincerely hope that you captured additional footage of stellar customer service in our stores, and while we recognize that the focus of your story was not on exemplary service, we strive every day to deliver on our service commitment."

“Like you, we were surprised to see the lack of service in some of the identified locations. We assure you that the lack of service captured by your hidden camera footage is not an accurate overall representation of the exemplary customer service and engagement practices we have been acknowledged for by our loyal customers and peers in the retail industry, year after year."

“Publix has scored higher than any other supermarket for customer service satisfaction in a national survey conducted by the American Customer Satisfaction Index for 18 years (1995-2013). We strive to create a superior shopping environment at all times."

“We have several systems and performance indicators in place to measure customer engagement and satisfaction measurements to benchmark performance factors throughout the entire store, from the service counter in the Deli and other service sub departments, to engagement on our sales floor and at check out."

“We also acknowledge that training is continuous and we can always strive to do better. Your footage allows us the opportunity to reinforce our company culture, policies and practices to assure we are meeting and exceeding the expectations of you and all of our loyal customers on each and every visit.”  Dwaine Stevens, Publix.