The supermarket sector, which earned a 73 score overall, saw its ratings slide in a number of categories, including staff courtesy and helpfulness, according to the survey.
Giant Eagle on Frankstown Road in Penn Hillls.
Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press
Target stores are down 12 percent in customer satisfaction since last year according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Whole Foods Market stores are down 10 percent in customer satisfaction since last year according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Wal-Mart stores are down 6 percent in customer satisfaction since last year according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
By Teresa F. Lindeman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
While America’s gas stations are benefiting from the halo of sliding fuel prices, supermarkets — and Giant Eagle, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Target, in particular — are not doing so well in keeping consumers satisfied.
New data from University of Michigan researchers shows a 3.9 percent drop in customer satisfaction with the supermarket sector as compared to a year ago.
Among the hardest hit grocers in the American Customer Satisfaction Index were Target, with a 12 percent drop; Whole Foods, with a 10 percent decline; Giant Eagle, down 7 percent; and Wal-Mart, down 6 percent.
It’s not just grocers that customers are unhappy with, either. The retail sector overall dropped 2.6 percent to 74.8 on a 100-point scale, the second consecutive year that satisfaction has dropped.
The index tracks different industries each quarter. The retail sector — which looks at department and discount stores; online retail; supermarkets; drugstores; specialty retail stores; and gas stations — is considered important because consumer spending is a key driver in the U.S. economy.
Data collected for this quarter’s report came from interviews with more than 9,000 customers contacted by email between mid-November and mid-December.
Part of the problem in retailers’ efforts to keep consumers happy, according to the researchers, can be blamed on the improving economy. Just after the recession, satisfaction scores rose.
PG graphic: Dissatisfied customers (Click image for larger version)
“Job security for customer service personnel was hard to come by and everybody was trying harder to please customers,” said Claes Fornell, chairman and founder of the index, in a prepared statement. “As both job security and employee turnover have increased, the level of customer service seems to have worsened.”
Things might look worse than they are. The overall score for the sector is now about even with the long-term average. Researchers speculated that during the recession, even as employees were more eager to please, customers might have been more forgiving. “As recovery settles in and economic conditions start to look more optimistic, that honeymoon is over,” the analysis said.
The supermarket sector, which earned a 73 score overall, saw its ratings slide in a number of categories, including staff courtesy and helpfulness, quality of pharmacy services, speed of checkout process and availability of merchandise.
Not all grocers had lower scores. Wegmans, a regional chain based in Rochester, N.Y., got a 1 percent increase to post the highest supermarket score at 86. H-E-B and Publix held steady at 82, while Aldi kept its score of 81.
Trader Joe’s fell 2 percent to 83, but that was still good enough for second place.
Target’s 12 percent plunge to 71 may reflect transitioning pains. “The luster of convenience is wearing off as the company works to expand its grocery brands and fresh food offerings,” according to the researchers’ analysis.
They argued that Whole Foods’ drop of 10 percent to a score of 73 reflects continuing problems shaking its reputation for high prices, even as competition in natural and organic foods is increasing.
Last year — Giant Eagle’s first year to garner enough mentions to be cited in the index — the O’Hara-based grocer scored a 72, one point higher than the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, which earned the sector’s lowest score with a 71.
This time around, the two retailers tied for last place with a 67.
The department and discount store sector lost 3.9 percent to earn an overall score of 74. Nordstrom hung onto its spot at the top of the class with an 82, while Wal-Mart came in at the bottom with a 66.
Macy’s, which had a rough holiday season and has since announced restructuring plans, fell 8 percent to earn a 73. J.C. Penney dropped 4 percent to a score of 74, while Target fell 6 percent to a score of 75. Kohl’s dropped 4 percent to 77.
Drugstores, too, struggled. The sector fell 5.2 percent to a score of 73. Pharmacies located inside other retailers like Kroger and Target “led the industry, indicating that the convenience of being able to fill prescriptions while shopping for other items yields higher customer satisfaction,” according to the researchers’ analysis.
Teresa F. Lindeman: email@example.com or 412-263-2018.
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