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Satisfaction among shoppers is on the decline

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Two years removed from its all-time high, customer satisfaction with the retail sector — including drug chains — has fallen for a second consecutive year.

Fourth quarter data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) show a slide of 2.6% to 74.8 on a 100-point scale. Despite the decline for 2015, the overall score for retail stands almost exactly at its long-term average. Among the six retail channels covered by the ACSI, all dropped but one: gas stations. Due to the lower cost of fuel, customers are more satisfied with service stations.

“Customer satisfaction with retail has been higher than its historical norm over the past few years as the economy slowly emerged from the Great Recession,” says Claes Fornell, ACSI’s founder and chairman. “This was because it was a tough environment to compete in. Job security for customer service personnel was hard to come by, and everybody was trying harder to please customers. As both job security and employee turnover have increased, the level of customer service seems to have ­worsened.”

Internet retail, which includes websites of brick-and-mortar stores, remains ahead of every other retail category despite a 2.4% drop to an ACSI score of 80. Every online company showed deteriorating customer satisfaction, but Amazon continued its dominance at 83, remaining among the highest-scoring companies in all of the index. Online retail sales growth, year over year, was about 13% for the holiday quarter, but Amazon nearly doubled that pace at 22%.

Pharmacy operators suffered a steeper decline in customer satisfaction than any other channel, down 5.2% to a record low of 73. Kroger Co. at 81 and Target Corp.’s in-store pharmacies (now owned by CVS Health) at 80 led the field. Walgreens scored 74, and Rite Aid Corp. and Safeway (part of Albertsons Cos.) tied at 69. Walmart was at 68.

After several years of relatively high customer satisfaction, supermarkets registered their lowest score in more than a decade, dropping 3.9% to 73. A wide range in customer satisfaction for supermarkets suggests it’s possible to please customers even though overall satisfaction is down for the industry.

Wegmans Food Markets Inc., one of three retailers to improve customer satisfaction, gained 1% to 86 to become one of the highest-scoring companies in the index. Other top-scoring supermarkets were Trader Joe’s Co. (83), H-E-B (82) and Publix Super Markets Inc. (82). Giant Eagle Inc. and Walmart at 67 found themselves at the opposite end of the scale. Albertsons rounded out the bottom three at 68.

“When consumers put a premium on service and quality, smaller companies often achieve higher customer satisfaction scores, and it’s the smaller independent chains that continue to set the bar for supermarkets,” said ACSI managing director David ­VanAmburg.

The biggest loser in customer satisfaction among supermarkets was Target. It plummeted 12% to 71, followed by Whole Foods Market Inc., which dove 10% to 73. Competition for natural and organic food has been heating up as Whole Foods struggles with a reputation among food shoppers for unjustifiably high prices.


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