Consumer satisfaction improved slightly last year, in keeping with the economy’s slow growth, but it failed to rebound to prerecession levels, according to a national survey scheduled for release today.
Overall, customers’ appraisal of retail products and services rose 0.7 percent to 75.8 out of a possible score of 100, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Among brick-and-mortar stores, scores were highest for specialty retailers that sell office supplies, home goods, and clothing, averaging 79. But online retailers received top marks, and giant Amazon.com took first place with an 86, even as it slid 1 percentage point from 2010.
“The good news is that customer satisfaction continues to climb, which has a positive effect on consumer demand and growth,’’ said Claes Fornell, founder of the index at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Fornell called the growth “tepid,’’ however, and said it is based in part on lower gasoline prices, which probably won’t be sustained. With payouts at the pump rising quickly in 2012, Fornell said, “customers obviously are going to be less pleased.’’
Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity. The index’s authors have found that higher satisfaction levels among consumers correlates to more spending and to growth in economic activity.
A number of areas in the index reflected ongoing frustration with the economy, such as increased unhappiness with online brokerages. Some firms, such as Fidelity Investments and E-Trade, saw customer satisfaction increase. But overall, the category experienced a two-point decline, to 76, as the stock market struggled.
“When the market is down, there is a little bit of a blaming-the-messenger syndrome,’’ said Larry Freed, chief executive of ForeSee, a company that provides e-commerce analysis for the ACSI report. “You only can be so happy at that point.’’
In the surveys, 80 is considered the benchmark for strong performance. The index is based on a survey of 70,000 customers. It includes 225 companies in 47 industries.
The biggest losers in the survey included Netflix, which fell from 86 to 74 last year after it raised prices in its movie rental business and threatened to split up its DVD and streaming-media services.
Another big retailer that saw a decline was Walmart. In the grocery sector, where Walmart is making a big push into urban areas, consumers ranked the Arkansas company at 69, down from 71 in 2010.
The top-ranked supermarket was Publix, based in Lakeland, Fla., at 84; Whole Foods ranked second, with an 80.
In the department and discount store industry, Walmart finished last, with a 70. The next lowest was Sears, at 76. Nordstrom ranked highest, with an 84.
Walmart and Netflix officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Beth Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.