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Why is Wegmans so beloved?

Wegmans is consistently cited as one of the nation's best-loved retailers, and it tops the American Customer Satisfaction Index's grocery store rankings once again. What sets Wegmans apart? 

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    Cooking coach Chef Charles Hill poses for a picture as he holds a Canadian certified organic farm-raised King Salmon in the Wegmans in Fairfax, Va. last year.
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Wegmans continues to dominate in customer satisfaction.

The discount grocery chain, which has 85 stores spread throughout New York and the mid-Atlantic region, was chosen as the number one supermarket by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) this week. Last year, Wegmans was listed as the No. 1 company for reputation by Harris Poll for the first time, beating out the likes of giants like Apple and Google, among others. Amazon holds the number one spot this year, although the Publix supermarket chain comes in at number six. 

The ACSI report was compiled from e-mail interviews conducted with nearly 10,000 randomly chosen customers, who were asked questions about their satisfaction with everything ranging from location and hours to staff friendliness.    

“Customer satisfaction with retail has been higher than its historical norm over the past few years as the economy slowly emerged from the Great Recession,” Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and chairman, said in a press release. “This was because it was a tough environment to compete in. Job security for customer service personnel was hard to come by and everybody was trying harder to please customers.”

Wegmans was not the only grocery store to be recognized by ACSI, however. While Wegmans earned the highest ACSI score, 86, Trader Joe’s and Publix were not far behind, scoring at 83 and 82, respectively. Overall customer satisfaction with the supermarket industry took a slight downturn, falling by 3.9 percent from a year ago to score at 73.

Still, these high satisfaction marks for Wegmans and other similar grocery chains show that while consumers may still be hesitant about their spending after December’s lows, it is still possible to draw customers in.

In addition to its high marks with customers, Wegmans has made Fortune magazine’s list of "100 Best Companies to Work For" each of the past the past 17 years. That's probably no accident: The chain has a stellar reputation for worker treatment and fostering long-term employee relationships – it has half the employee turnover of its counterparts in the grocery industry and no required retirement age. 

Wegmans says this leads to better customer service: Employees are required to go through extensive training before they are permitted to interface with shoppers. And the company makes investments in their staff by sending "butchers to Colorado, Uruguay and Argentina to learn about beef. It sends deli managers to Wisconsin, Italy, Germany and France to learn about cheese. Last year, it awarded $4.5 million in college scholarships to employees," according to Reuters.

“Our employees are our number one asset, period,” Kevin Stickles, the company’s vice president for human resources, told Reuters in 2012. “The first question you ask is: ‘Is this the best thing for the employee?’ That’s a totally different model.”

Trader Joe’s and other similar grocery chains like QuikTrip have also adopted an employees-first mentality, with the philosophy that this emphasis on reducing turnover and maximizing efficiency will, in turn, result in higher sales.

That is the opposite of that thinking applied by many publicly traded retailers and industries, who choose to put profits first to appease shareholders (both Wegmans and Trader Joe's are privately owned). And the gamble seems to pay off. The loyalty felt among many Trader Joe’s customers is well-documented, with many choosing the chain above others for its perceived cleanliness, value, and friendly staff.

Wegmans pulls in annual sales of approximately $7.9 billion. Trader Joe’s pulled in $1.24 billion in 2015.   

[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated which year Wegmans was number one on the Harris Poll annual Reputation Quotient listing. It was 2015, not 2016.]

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