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ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Americans' satisfaction with the goods and services they buy reached an all-time high in the fourth quarter of 2006, according to a report by the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
The index climbed to 74.9 on ACSI's 100-point scale, up 0.7 percent from the previous quarter and up almost two percent from the previous year, the university said. This is the highest score the index has had since its first measure in 1994 (74.8), it said.
The latest ACSI data suggest that satisfied consumers will continue to prop up the economy, driving spending growth of between 3.5 percent and 4.1 percent for the first quarter of 2007.
"In view of these results, it is not surprising that the consumer continues to lift the economy despite the housing slump," said Claes Fornell, director of the University of Michigan's National Quality Research Center, which compiles and analyzes the ACSI data. "The economy may not be coming in for a soft landing. With the confluence of a number of favorable economic factors, there may be no landing at all. Rising wages, little inflation, and falling unemployment combined with higher customer satisfaction and strong consumer confidence suggest the trend in spending growth will continue to drive economic growth."
Every fourth quarter, ACSI measures customer satisfaction for the retail and financial services sectors and e-commerce. Improvements in customer satisfaction occur across the board with 9 of the 13 industries measured in the fourth quarter showing improvements.
Customer satisfaction with the retail sector, which includes supermarkets, department and discount stores, specialty retail stores, gas stations, and health and personal care stores, was up 2.8 percent to 74.4 on the ACSI's 100-point scale.
Costco once again led the retail industry, gaining 2.5 percentage points to 81, its highest score ever and one of the highest in all of ACSI. Best Buy also gained in study, jumping 7 percent to 76.
The study also found supermarkets improving slightly, up 1 percent in aggregate to 75, with Publix pacing the list and improving 2.5 percent to 83. Supervalu dropped 4 percent to 74 as it absorbs the majority of Albertsons high profile banners in an acquisition. Albertsons had been a poor performer before being acquired, and its less satisfied customers surely have impacted Supervalu's score, according to the study.
The drug store industry is up 2.6 percent from its first measurement last year. CVS made a big jump of 5.4 percent to 78, while Rite Aid is up 4.2 percent to 75. Both companies have been adding more outlets, defying the convention that mergers compromise customer service. CVS has more locations nationwide than any other company in the industry. New computer technologies help drug stores keep highly interconnected and allowing prescriptions to be refilled at any store. More locations mean greater convenience.
The department and discount stores' performance did not improve this year, slipping 1 percent to 74. No measured company in the category made an improvement and the "all others" category of stores with smaller market shares declines 4 percent. Kohl's maintained its leadership position with a strong score of 80, followed by J.C. Penney, which holds steady at 78 for the second year in a row, followed by Target (77 percent) and Dillard's (75 percent).