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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Customer satisfaction with the goods and services that Americans buy declined in the fourth quarter of 2007, according to a report released today by the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). However, the supermarket sector, led by Publix Super Markets, turned in an improved rating.
The overall index fell to 74.9 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, down 0.4 percent to its lowest score of 2007. Yet supermarkets were up 1.3 percent to 76, the highest level in 14 years, despite the recent rise in food prices.
Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix continues to lead the category with a score of 83. According to its customers, Publix offers high-quality products and superior customer service, which has been the foundation for the lead in customer satisfaction over the past 14 years, according to the index authors.
Winn-Dixie plunged 7 percent to tie Wal-Mart's supermarket business at the bottom of the industry at 71. Whole Foods Market, meanwhile, made its ACSI debut with a score of 73, leading in quality but at the bottom for value.
Compared to other discount stores, Wal-Mart took a sharp turn south, plummeting 6 percent to its all-time low of 68, well below the industry average, according to the authors. Wal-Mart also scored lowest in the industry for customer service.
Deep discount store Dollar General makes its ACSI debut with a strong score of 78, providing customers with a wide variety of merchandise in a reasonably small store-space at super discount prices.
The authors of the index noted that consumer spending growth slowed in the fourth quarter as predicted by the third quarter drop in ACSI. A second consecutive drop in customer satisfaction, combined with increasing unemployment, plummeting house prices, tighter credit, high levels of household debt, and inflating fuel and food prices, is likely to pose even more challenges this quarter for consumer spending growth.
"Falling customer satisfaction has a dampening effect on consumer demand, and household debt-to-income ratios affect consumers' ability to spend," said Claes Fornell, head of the ACSI. "Both are moving in the wrong direction, brewing up a double-whammy that may hit the economy hard. In such an environment, customer satisfaction becomes even more important because satisfied buyers tend to reduce sellers' cash flow volatility."
The American Customer Satisfaction Index is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. It is updated each quarter with new measures for different sectors of the economy replacing data from the prior year. The overall ACSI score for a given quarter factors in scores from about 200 companies in 43 industries and from government agencies over the previous four quarters.
The Index is produced by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business in partnership with the American Society for Quality and CFI Group, and is supported in part by ForeSee Results. ACSI can be found on the web at www.theacsi.org.