store logosWhat could computers, greeting cards and signature tees possibly have in common? Seems the stores that sell them -- Apple Store, Hallmark and Polo Ralph Lauren -- are three of the 14 brick-and-mortar stores that ranked among the 100 top-performing brands for customer experience in the Nunwood Customer Experience 100, a first-ever national study.

Nunwood, which bills itself as a global customer experience specialist, recently conducted a study of 4,853 shoppers across the United States to gain insight about their experience with more than 250 of the country's best-known brands. While you may be able to guess some of the top players, just why they made the cut may surprise you.

Here's what David Conway, Nunwood's chief strategy officer, shared with WalletPop about exactly what drew surveyed shoppers to the top 14 retailers:

Shoppers surveyed were effusive about the Apple Store, tenth on the overall list but tops on the list of retailers, for offering up a unique shopping experience and superior customer service, Conway says. "Apple has everything: the right ambiance, excellent personal service, and the stores are nice and airy and welcoming," Conway says. "On top of that, they also sell fantastic products."

Costco (#14 on the overall list) was "universally lauded for its great value and amazing prices," says Conway. Shoppers also pointed out the warehouse club's customer-friendly returns policy, enormous variety of merchandise, "high-quality goods" and easy-to-navigate stores.

BJ's Wholesale Club (#15) also scored high with consumers surveyed "due to the quality of its products," Conway says. They also like the fact that they can buy in smaller quantities compared to other wholesale retailers. The warehouse club chain was also perceived to be lower priced than its competitors, Conway added, but without sacrificing quality.

"DIYers [do-it-yourself-ers] really like Lowe's," Conway says, of the store ranked No. 17 on the list. "When it comes to hardware and appliances, customers need advice -- they need staff who are willing to spend time with them, answer their questions and make suggestions. At Lowe's, they find [that]."

Sam's Club (#20) got a thumbs up for being "a fun place to shop" with inventory that changes and creates a treasure-hunt appeal, Conway says. "Highly competitive pricing" and easy-to-maneuver stores also make "buying in bulk a pleasant experience," adds Conway.

Going "the extra mile" gave delivery service UPS (#25) a spot on the list, Conway says. "Guaranteed overnight delivery and the consistent achievement of delivery schedules means customers can count on UPS," he adds.

Hallmark (#29) employs a "courteous, helpful staff" and stocks its stores with a broad assortment that is peppered with "interesting ideas for gifts," Conway says, offering examples of why customers love Hallmark stores. "And a large assortment of card and gift choices means customers rank Hallmark well ahead of its competitors."

Home Depot (#33) also got a shout out for its "excellent service," Conway says. Shoppers also like the home improvement giant's "huge inventory and easy-to-navigate stores." What's more, Conway says, consumers like that Home Depot offers stationery and office products, too.

Consumers showed some love for the nation's biggest retailer, too. Wal-Mart (#34) got high marks for its friendly, courteous employees, stores that are open 24 hours, convenient locations and one-stop-shopping appeal, Conway says. Interestingly, the retailer also had many detractors, says Conway.

Kohl's (#37) got kudos for its "excellent prices, quality merchandise and great selection," Conway says. "The bargain shopping experience [there] is supported by a courteous staff and an attractive rewards program."

At the same time, shoppers also praised J.C. Penney (#39), Kohl's mid-market department store competitor, for its "relaxing browsing experience," Conway says. And parents like J.C. Penney's children's department. "[But it's] the sales and promotions that encourage shoppers to part with their money," he adds.

When it comes to Polo Ralph Lauren (#40), says Conway, "it's the product rather than the retail experience that Polo Ralph Lauren customers covet. Timeless classics in great styles made with quality fabrics means that customers know they'll look great."

And shoppers raised a glass to drugstore chain Walgreens, as well as upscale-discounter Target, which were tied at No. 42.

Walgreens was praised for its "minimum hassle, a convivial environment...[with a] knowledgeable staff that ensures customers get their questions answered easily and quickly," says Conway.

Meanwhile, Target fans said they "love" shopping there. "They have really good deals in the dollar section," said one customer, while another said, "I can find things at Target that I cannot find anywhere else."

When it comes to a good retail experience, you can't argue with that.


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