The national customer satisfaction benchmark gains 0.5% to 76.3 on a scale of 0 to 100 for the fourth quarter of 2012, according to a report released today by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The rise comes from strong public sector gains combined with moderate customer satisfaction improvement for five of eight retail and e-commerce industries.
“The improvement in overall customer satisfaction is positive news for consumer demand but with the caveat that a good portion of the gain comes from federal and local government services,” says Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and author of The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference. “Looking at the economy as a whole, low inflation, shrinking household debt, and pent-up consumer demand are starting to fuel consumer spending. At the same time, however, economic growth will be hampered by a still-tepid job outlook, low wage increases, high gasoline prices, and the economic uncertainty created by our politicians.”
Whether shopping for groceries, specialty goods like office supplies or electronics, or patronizing stores with a broad array of merchandise, American consumers are seeking the right balance between quality and value, with the latter becoming somewhat more important since the recession. Supermarkets show an ACSI benchmark of 77 in 2012, up 1.3% since 2011.
“Low price inflation for food products in 2012, combined with better service, product selection and store layouts, yields success in the form of enhanced customer satisfaction for supermarkets,” says Fornell.
Publix’s track record of leading customer satisfaction continues as the chain gains 2% to an ACSI score of 86. Publix widens the gap to Whole Foods, which is stable at 80 after four straight years of improvement. Kroger’s customer satisfaction is also unchanged at 79, while Winn-Dixie jumps 4% to 78.
Further down, Supervalu, Safeway and Wal-Mart are in the mid-to-low 70s, which suggests that even in a strapped economy, low prices alone are not enough to make customers happy. Supervalu gains 3% to 76 and Safeway is flat at 75. Discount giant Wal-Mart is in last place despite a 4% gain to 72.
The fourth quarter 2012 national score is based on the ACSI’s annual report on citizen satisfaction with government services, along with new scores released today for retail and e-commerce. The 2012 government report, available earlier this month, shows ACSI increases of 2.2% for federal and 3.0% for local government services. Today’s report covers customer satisfaction with 44 companies in 8 industries: supermarkets; department & discount stores; specialty retail stores; health & personal care (drug) stores; gasoline service stations; and Internet retail, brokerage, and travel.