Though the retail industry will be flooded with promotions and discounts this Christmas shopping season, customer service will also play an important role for shoppers when deciding where to buy gifts, according to a new survey by the NRF Foundation, an arm of the National Retail Federation and the American Express Company.

According to the survey, conducted by BIGresearch, the importance that shoppers place on customer service should not go unnoticed by retailers, as 85 percent of consumers said that they spend and shop more at retailers who provide good service. Another 82 percent are likely to recommend these retailers to friends and family.

Retailers know that consumers spend more time and money in a store when they have a pleasant shopping experience, said John Theiss, Vice President, Retail Industries, American Express Establishment Services. Through excellent service, retailers have an opportunity to retain and build on their customer base.

A nationwide poll yielding more than 8,600 consumer responses put Nordstrom at the top of the customer service list of retailers, followed by Coldwater Creek, Marshall Fields, Kohls, and Boscovs.

Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), JC Penney, Lane Bryant, Best Buy and Eddie Bauer round out the top 10.

The survey also ranked the top direct merchants, whose customer service front-runners included: L.L. Bean, Blair,,, and

Consumers Have Highest Expectation at Restaurants

According to the survey, consumers expect the highest level of service from restaurants, which had a 4.39 rating out of 5.0. Consumers also have high service expectations from specialty stores (4.32), department stores (3.94), and drug stores (3.92).

Shoppers have average expectations from grocery stores (3.77) and Internet retailers (3.71), and have the lowest expectations of service at membership warehouse clubs (3.58) and discount stores (3.21).

As the retail environment becomes more competitive, customer service is taking a front seat in helping retailers maximize sales, said NRF Foundation President Tracy Mullin. Retailers are investing heavily in employee training to ensure that the people who represent their companies during the holiday season are as knowledgeable and professional as possible.

Wal-Mart Ranks First Among Discounters

When looking at the top stores for customer service by segment, a variety of retailers emerge as front-runners in their sector.

For discount chains, Wal-Mart holds the number-one spot for customer service, while Nordstrom is at the top of the list for department stores.

Womens apparel retailer Coldwater Creek ranked first in the specialty apparel category and outdoor gear company REI took the top spot among non-apparel specialty stores.

Additionally, family-owned Wegmans Food Markets ranked first in the grocery category.