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Customer satisfaction at the national level inched up 0.1 percent to 75.8 on a scale of 0 to 100 for the fourth quarter of 2011.
That’s according to a report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which shows the Q4 gain brings the yearly change for 2011 up to 0.7 percent, a mild improvement that is in sync with a very slowly recovering U.S. economy.
“The good news is that customer satisfaction continues to climb, which has a positive effect on consumer demand and growth,” says Claes Fornell, author of “The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference,” and ACSI’s founder. “Still, the ACSI improvement is tepid, and much of the fourth quarter gain comes from positive consumer reaction to lower gas prices. With gas prices already on the rise, customers obviously are going to be less pleased.”
The fourth quarter 2011 national score is based on January results for government, which overall was nearly stable (+0.1 percent to 67) despite a gain for federal services, along with new scores released today for retail and e-commerce. In total, 44 companies are measured within eight industries: supermarkets; department and discount stores; specialty retail stores; health and personal care (drug) stores; gasoline service stations; and Internet retail, brokerage and travel.
Customer satisfaction with supermarkets improved by 1.3 percent to an ACSI score of 76, despite a continued rise in food prices. In 2011, the cost of food prepared at home rose 6 percent, following a 1.7 percent increase in 2010. Even though this is a price-sensitive market, the negative effect on customer satisfaction from higher prices was dampened by changes in stores (remodeling and freshening up) and by expansion of merchandise selections, all designed to improve the shopping experience for consumers, including making it easier to compare prices.
Publix Super Markets reigns supreme in customer satisfaction among grocers, as it has each year since 1994. Publix holds steady with an excellent ACSI score of 84. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart's supermarket business is at the bottom of the category, down 3 percent to 69, a score that is well below the next-closest chain, Supervalu, at 74 (unchanged).
In an industry where most competitors try to leverage quality, in one form or another, as a means to compensate for price increases, Wal-Mart’s concentration on price alone does not seem to help satisfy customers Many consumers may be patronizing Wal-Mart because their economic situation dictates it, not because they have a strong preference for it.
Whole Foods Market places second behind Publix, inching up yet again with a 1 percent gain to 80. Customer satisfaction for Whole Foods has trended upward in every year since 2007, its first year of measurement in the index. Whole Foods is one of many examples of the payoff from satisfied customers; its large gain in ACSI (10 percent) over the past four years is nearly twice that of any other chain and its stock price is up more than 600 percent over the past three years.
Customer satisfaction with online retail rebounded 1.3 percent to 81 in 2011, making the category the clear winner compared with traditional retailers (average of 76.1 overall). While this customer satisfaction score is lower than it was two years ago, it is high enough to surpass the individual scores of most traditional retailers.
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. Data from interviews with approximately 70,000 customers annually are used as inputs into an econometric model to measure satisfaction with more than 225 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors, along with over 200 services, programs, and websites of approximately 130 federal government agencies.