Italy was one of the first countries to go into lockdown after the outbreak of COVID-19. For many customers, this had an impact on the emphasis they put on certain pillars. Personalization and Integrity were the most important in driving loyalty and advocacy respectively, and this was also true in 2019. But the intensity has increased since. The Italian customer has re-established their priorities in the midst of fear and uncertainty, identifying Integrity as one of the most important qualities a brand can possess.

This was a challenge that the grocery retail sector rose to, proving to be the strongest in the 2020 study. Consumers valued how the sector reorganized itself to cope with the emergency situation, and worked to ensure that customers' primary needs could be met — all the while helping them to remain safe.

Indeed, 10 of Italy's grocery retail brands ranked in the top 100 — one of which is Esselunga, which ranked at number three. During the lockdown period, Esselunga remained focused on its ethos of looking after customers and communities, donating €2.5 million to hospitals. But COVID-19 also gave the retailer new ways to demonstrate its care. For example, with its 'ufirst' app, shoppers could book their place in a supermarket queue before attending, receiving real-time notifications that would tell them when to set off for the store. This helped to reduce wait times outside the supermarket, and facilitate social distancing.

Esselunga was sensitive to the needs of its more vulnerable customers. One respondent said: "Because of the coronavirus I contacted Esselunga to bring the groceries to my home, and I was pleased to find that they do not charge me transport costs as I am over 65 years old." Such actions helped the brand to achieve a high pillar score for Integrity.

Like Esselunga, Apple Store scored highly in the pillar of Integrity, and ranked at number two in the Italian research. It's a customer-centric organization, paying particularly close attention to security and user privacy, performing 100,000 deep-checks on its smartphone apps every week.1

Of course, being customer-centric has not been easy to maintain, with Apple Store having been closed during the lockdown. But pre- COVID, the brand was noted for its personable and efficient customer experience, with 'Geniuses' on hand to assist with any issues a person might be experiencing. This is an example of the more experiential feel that Apple Store strives to exude, making a visit to one of its outlets more of an emotive, memorable occurrence — and not simply about selling products.

For Apple Store, the emphasis is on forming deep relationships, and creating a lifestyle. Indeed, the brand achieved a strong score in the pillar of Empathy, highlighting its ability to understand customers, and act with their best interests in mind. Amazon, the online shopping brand, took first place in this year's rankings performing equally strongly in the pillars of Personalization and Time and Effort.

It can be difficult for digital brands to achieve high Personalization scores when there is little genuine human interaction. Amazon's proficiency in this pillar comes through algorithmic learning. Simply put, the retailer 'learns' about shoppers' past purchases and uses its own programming to make suitable recommendations for future purchases. It also offers a range of delivery options which allow consumers to pick dates and times that are most convenient for them.

Speed and efficiency are also key parts of Amazon's customer experience strategy. Its website features a 1-Click service which enables a shopper to complete a transaction within seconds, based on their previously-set preferences. There is also an Amazon Locker service that negates the need for a customer to wait for a delivery at home. Shoppers can have their goods transported to special collection points and then pick them up at their convenience, using a special code which is sent by email.

Brands such as Amazon, Apple Store and Esselunga have made innovative use of technology in 2020 — both before and during the COVID-19 outbreak.

For organizations like Esselunga the emphasis has been on finding new, creative solutions to problems within short timeframes, acting quickly and effectively in the midst of everchanging needs.

This will be an important consideration for all Italian brands as they head towards 2021. It's an uncertain period for both organizations and consumers, and both must be willing to adapt as the impacts of COVID-19 play out.

With this will come an increased need to look after customers — literally — in terms of safety and social distancing, and in addition, every brand must be ready to deliver a strong digital offering, in the event of further lockdowns.

“Customer experience is becoming an increasingly crucial aspect of business, confirmed by a general improvement of all sectors. However, the performance gap between the more mature sectors and those with ample room for improvement is still marked. Brands that have reacted excellently to the complications of the emergency have raised consumer expectations, so the future challenge will be to maintain the trust gained by the consumer and to meet the increasing demands of the digitally-savvy consumer." ”

Paolo Capaccioni
Head of Customer Advisory
KPMG in Italy

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