Where to Get the Best Customer Service

Last Updated Jan 27, 2011 5:22 PM EST

Results are in from the sixth annual NRF (National Retail Federation) Foundation/American Express Customers Choice survey. It polled some 9,200 consumers. (Be still my heart!) It asked consumers one open-ended question, to wit, "Thinking of all the different retail formats (store, catalog, internet or home shopping), which retailer delivers the best customer service?

So, without further ado, here are the top twenty -- ta-da! -- (listed with their rankings from last year).

1. Zappos.com (3)

2 Amazon (4)

3 LL Bean (1)

4 Overstock.com (2)

5 Lands' End (8)

6 JC Penney (9)

7 Kohl's (15)

8 QVC (5)

9 Nordstrom (10)

10 Newegg (15)

11 Cabela's (14)

12 Sears (13)

13 Best Buy (16)

14 Avon (N.A.)

15 ACE Hardware (19)

16 HSN (7)

17 IKEA (20)

18 T Mobile (N.A.)

19 Macy's (19)

20 Victoria's Secret (17)

It's hard to know how much stock to put in such a survey. Over the eons, I've had trouble with all these retailers except QVC and HSN (because shopping on TV is about as fascinating to me as reading the Internal Revenue Code), Victoria's Secret (because I believe I have to face facts) and Newegg, which I had never heard of. (It sells computers and other electronics.) Customers were not asked many specifics about pricing, product selection or customer service, as Consumer Reports did in its recent survey of places (online and off) to buy computers. So you have to accept the rankings as a kind of brand popularity contest.
Nevertheless, if you look at the entire list, some observations come to mind. Two retailers that sell practically everything in the universe, namely Amazon, JC Penny and Sear's, ranked much higher than big-box stores that also sell practically everything in the universe, Target (21), Walmart (27) and Kmart (28). In the hardware category, ACE, in fifteenth place, totally creamed Lowe's (33), Menards (34) and Home Depot (36). Maybe consumers are trying to say, as I have, that big-box retailers, with their zillions of products, acres of floor space and skimpy sales sales, make buying too difficult. Trader Joe's (24) shut down Whole Foods (41 -- ouch!) Finally, you have to wonder why everybody is so delighted that the iPhone will be available through Verizon next month as well as the universally loathed AT&T Wireless, when the latter ranked 30 and the former 39. Meanwhile, little T-Mobile, in 18th place, zapped them both.