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The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is out with its ratings for the fourth quarter of 2010, and it concludes that customer satisfaction “has not improved since the middle of 2009, and now registers its biggest drop in two years. For the fourth quarter of 2010 the Index falls 0.5% to 75.3 on the ACSI’s 0-100 scale.”

However, the report goes on, “While the slide in customer satisfaction is not encouraging for consumer demand or for employment, the overall numbers don’t tell the whole story and things may not be quite as serious as the aggregate suggests. Most of the ACSI decline was due to a plunge in satisfaction with government services, as reported in the January 2011 ACSI release, and a sharp decline for gasoline. The latter was caused by rising oil prices, which do have a dampening effect on consumer demand and economic growth, but slumping satisfaction with government has much less of an impact on the economy.”

According to the report, “Customer satisfaction with the retail sector falls 1.6% to 75.0, mostly due to a big drop for gasoline service stations, which plummet 7.9% to 70 in the wake of a 20% rise in gas prices over the past year. Results for other retail industries are mixed - higher prices on food and other items dampen satisfaction with supermarkets (–1.3% to 75) and health & personal care stores (–1.3% to 77), while continued aggressive discounting keeps department & discount stores and specialty retailers trending upward for a third straight year. Both industries improve by 1.3% to 76 and 78, respectively.

“Publix maintains its lead among supermarket chains despite a 2% drop to an ACSI score of 84. Publix has led the category every year since 1994. Whole Foods is next, well behind Publix but coming on strong, gaining 4% to 79, followed closely by Kroger, unchanged at 78. Supervalu slips below the industry average, falling 4% to 74, tied with Safeway, which improves 3%. Wal-Mart is at bottom of the industry, unchanged at 71 for the grocery portion of its business.”

In other segments rated by the survey:

• “Smaller drugstore chains lead the health & personal care store category, up 3% to an ACSI score of 81. Among the three largest retailers, Walgreen remains in front, unchanged at 77, followed by Rite Aid (-1% to 75). CVS Caremark retreats 4% to 74, falling out of a first place tie with Walgreen a year ago and hitting the bottom of the category. Problems with customer service appear to be at the center of the decline. CVS Caremark has cut costs in response to lower revenues throughout 2010, and that too might have had an adverse effect on customer service.”

• “The ACSI score for e-commerce falls 2.6% to an ACSI score of 79.3, the lowest level since 2004. A 3.6% drop to 80 for Internet retail drives the overall decline, but the decline is mostly concentrated in smaller companies. Customer satisfaction improves 1.3% to 78 for travel sites and is unchanged at 78 for online brokerage. Amazon and Netflix swap places for the lead in retail, with Amazon rising 1% to 87 and Netflix dropping 1% to 86. Amazon’s score is the highest for any retailer, whether online or brick-and-mortar. Newegg (–2% to 84) and Overstock (+1% to 83) are next in line. eBay makes a significant improvement, up 3% to 81, but not enough to move ahead of any of the larger competitors.”
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