ACSI: Consumer Satisfaction Slipped In 4Q

Consumers are shopping, and while that’s good news, they are not necessarily walking away from their experiences as happily as they were a year ago or even in the summer, which may not bode well for continued retail sales growth.
Shopper satisfaction as measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index has not improved since mid-2009 and registered its biggest drop in two years in the fourth quarter. The index, compiled by market research organization ACSI LLC, fell 0.5% in the 2010 fourth quarter to 75.3 on the 100-point scale employed. A score of 80 or better on the scale indicates strong consumer satisfaction.
Ecommerce took a particularly hard hit. Although it outscores retail overall in customer satisfaction, still rating a 79.3 on the ACSI scale, that number represents a 2.6% decline. Internet pure players generated the most disappointment in the fourth quarter, with their rating down 3.6%, but they still maintain an 80 score overall.
Traditional retail didn’t get away unscathed, with its score falling 1.6% to 75. The good news for most is that gas stations were the primary generators of the decline, hit by significantly higher fuel prices. Supermarkets and personal care stores also trended down, both about 1.3%, to ratings of 75 and 77 respectively. On the other hand, satisfaction with discount/department stores and specialty retailers was up by 1.3% to 76 and 78 respectively. ACSI analysts determined that aggressive discounting boosted broadliners and specialists while food stores where hurt by higher prices for edibles.
Macy’s gained 7% to lead gains by general merchandise retails, and Kohl’s gained 3%, while J.C. Penney and Dollar General advanced by 1% each. Target’s score fell 3%. Walmart discount store operations gained 3%— ACSI rates the retailer’s grocery business separately— but the retailer continues to remain at the bottom of a scale, ACSI pointed out, with an overall rating of 73. Macy’s advanced to 76 while Target fell to 78. J.C. Penney and Dollar General each rated an 80 while Kohl’s hit 81. Nordstrom slipped 1% but still leads the discount/department store category with an 82.
Amazon gained 1% to a score of 87, taking the lead position on the ecommerce list from Netflix down 1% to 86. With a significant move, eBay gained 3% to push its rating to 81.
“Even though the economic recovery has gained a bit more momentum as of late, it remains sluggish,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI’s founder. “With low job creation and deteriorating customer satisfaction, as tracked by the ACSI, the uncertainty of what will happen to consumer demand is not going away.”