ANN ARBOR, Mich.–In yet another danger sign for the economy, consumers’ satisfaction with the goods and services they buy from department stores and mass merchants has dropped to the lowest level since 2001, a recession year.
In its quarterly review released this morning, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a project of the University of Michigan, found that the measure of satisfaction in the fourth quarter of 2007 dropped to 74.9 on a 100 scale, the lowest quarter for the year.
For department stores and mass merchants, satisfaction for the year ended at 73, the lowest in five years. Among the retailers in this category that were sampled by the ACSI, Wal-Mart received a score that was not only lower than that of any other store, but the lowest for Wal-Mart since the index was created in 1994.
In a statement accompanying the release, the ACSI said the world’s largest retailer “also scores lowest in the industry for customer service.”
Sears Holdings Corp., including Kmart, while higher than Wal-Mart’s, received a score that was lower than at any time since 2000.
Not all retailers fared poorly, however. Luxury retailer Nordstrom, which had not been on the poll the year before, received the highest score, 80. Kohl’s was next, with a score of 79, although that was down a point from 2006.
Specialty retail stores, as a group, fared better with consumers than department stores and mass merchants. Barnes & Noble, Borders and Costco Wholesale led this category. (The ACSI includes Costco among specialty stores rather than among mass merchants or discounters.)
Among other key retailers, Home Depot “lost the gains it made last year after sliding 4 percent to the bottom of the whole retail sector.” Its archcompetitor Lowe’s, by contrast, improved 1 percent, “widening the gap between the rivals.”
The danger of falling satisfaction, according to Claes Fornell, a professor of business administration at the university, especially when added to deepening unemployment and the current housing and credit squeeze, is its dampening effect on consumer spending, a key motor of the economy.