This holiday season is poised to see a stronger bifurcation between retail's haves and have-nots. The strong are getting stronger, and the weak are getting weaker, as customer experience continues to play a greater role in their shopping needs.

So far, traffic has been lower-than-expected, noted Adrienne Yih of Wolfe Research, but there's still "a decent setup for 4Q16." As a result of consumers being pickier with the stores they visit, it's important for retailers, both mall-based and online, to give customers a reason to come back again and again.

"Customer satisfaction is a driver for higher earnings and the customer satisfaction data points are critical for helping boost earnings and a higher share price," said Phil Bak, CEO of ACSI Funds, which has $40 million in total assets under management.

ACSI Funds, which launched the American Customer Satisfaction Index ETF ( ACSI) in conjunction with the American Customer Satisfaction Index organization, believes its research shows that customer satisfaction scores are a predictive measure of stock performance. "We have 20 years of proprietary research to show that higher scores lead to a higher stock price," Bak added.
 
The National Retail Federation  expects $655.8 billion to be spent during the holiday shopping season, up 3.6% compared to last year.
 
"All of the fundamentals are in a good place, giving strength to consumers and leading us to believe that this will be a very positive holiday season," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a press release.
 
Adobe noted that $5.27 billion was spent online last Thursday and Friday, with $3.34 billion on Black Friday and $1.93 billion on Thanksgiving, up nearly 18%, another good sign for Cyber Monday and mobile. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimated 154 million shopped over the weekend, up 3 million from 2015 and well above the 137.4 million that was expected.

Average spending per consumer fell year-over-year to $289.19 from $299.60, with founder and CEO of Amplify Investments Christian Magoon noting that consumers may have felt a "bit less urgency" in terms of making purchases this year as events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday get extended.
 
Citigroup analysts noted that apparel is likely to hold up better this year than consumer electronics will. Consumer are planning to spend a lower percentage on consumer electronics vs 2015," the research firm wrote in a note, releasing its survey findings. "All electronic categories are down y/y with PCs, streaming media devices, smartphones and fitness trackers down the most. Spending on drones, gaming consoles, tablets and TVs is holding up better than other categories."

Thanks to high scores from the  American Customer Satisfaction Index, companies like Amazon ( AMZN) , Apple ( AAPL) , L Brands ( LB) , Nordstrom ( JWN) and Dillard's ( DDS) may see a boost in sales this holiday season. 

Amazon leads the Internet retailer space with an ASCI index score of 83, above the score of 80 for the group as a whole. The closest competitor is Newegg, with a score of 79.
 
"We're seeing a shift to internet and e-commerce shopping from brick and mortar and the clear leader here is Amazon," Bak said. "They've done a phenomenal job being heads and shoulders above anyone else on customer satisfaction."
 
Much of the value from shopping on Amazon is from its Amazon Prime service, which offers two-day shipping (and depending on the area and product, faster), as well as a wide selection of movies and TV shows.
 
William Blair analyst Ryan Domyancic noted that while the selection of products available on Prime has increased significantly over the past two years, there's a pricing advantage as well. "Our 2016 pricing survey found items sold by Amazon or by third-party sellers that utilized Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) were priced at a 4% discount to identical items in physical retail locations," Domyancic wrote to clients.
 
Apple, which has an ACSI score of 84 for personal computers and 81 for phones, has also turned its high customer satisfaction levels, something CEO Tim Cook has talked about ad nauseam, into an advantage over the competition. "It gets a high score from its loyal customer base," Bak added.
 
L Brands, which owns Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, has the highest score among specialty retail shops, with a customer satisfaction level of 81. Nordstrom has topped the department stores on the high-end and Dillard's is best catering towards a more value-oriented consumer.
 
Conversely, companies such as Macy's ( M) , Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF) and even Walmart ( WMT) may see underperformance, because of low customer satisfaction scores.
 
"Walmart is low and it's declining, even factoring in low expectations," Bak said about the world's largest retailer.   Bak added that the recent acquisition of Jet.com for $3 billion had not been factored into Walmart's score.
 
Walmart recently reported third-quarter results that came in slightly above Wall Street's estimates and the company raised the low-end of earnings guidance, but there were still shortfalls for the Bentonville, Ark.-based company, with international results falling short. 
 
"Overall, the quarter was no standout, but seems to suggest the company's strategy remains on track and should measure up well versus other staples retail peers," Credit Suisse analyst Edward Kelly wrote following Walmart's results.
 

If you liked this article you might like

Amazon's Stock Is on the Verge of a Big Breakout: Chart

Amazon's Stock Is on the Verge of a Big Breakout: Chart

Why Activist Investors Won't Target UPS Even After Lackluster Results

Why Activist Investors Won't Target UPS Even After Lackluster Results

Walmart's Slowing E-Commerce Growth Shows Just How Formidable Amazon Is

Walmart's Slowing E-Commerce Growth Shows Just How Formidable Amazon Is

Home Depot CFO: We Have Barrier Islands Around Us That Protect Us From Amazon

Home Depot CFO: We Have Barrier Islands Around Us That Protect Us From Amazon

Walmart Sinks Dow; Albertsons to Fight Off Grocery Struggles With Rite Aid-ICYMI

Walmart Sinks Dow; Albertsons to Fight Off Grocery Struggles With Rite Aid-ICYMI