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The Growing Gulf in Consumer-Satisfaction Measures

The Growing Gulf in Consumer-Satisfaction Measures

By David Merrefield
VP, Editorial Director

A surprisingly large and increasing spread between consumers’ satisfaction with various food retailing chains was registered by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index that’s issued annually by the University of Michigan.

ACSI is a much-followed and often-mentioned measure of how favorably, or not, consumers regard various shopping choices, including such diverse services as supermarkets, department stores, banks, life insurance and several e-commerce permutations. The most recent edition of the study was issued last week.

For our purposes, let’s take a quick look at how food-shopping venues resonated with consumers during 2006 and look for comparisons with earlier years to see what trends are developing. The study contemplated six specific supermarket brands plus an “all others” category.

Not surprisingly, given that most supermarkets are “all others,” that ranking was at the median, 75. Conspicuous for being above the median was Publix, which earned the top ranking of 83 for all food stores measured. That’s an increase of two points above Publix’s 2005 level. Equally conspicuous was the lowest ranking among all retail brands studied, that being the food component of Wal-Mart supercenters, which garnered the rank of 69. That was down one point from the 2005 level. Other chains cited by name were Kroger at 76 for 2006, up three points from the previous year; Winn-Dixie at 76, up three; Safeway at 74, up three; and Supervalu at 74, down three.

Supervalu’s number was at the lowest level it has earned in the dozen years the study has been conducted. The study’s framers, in an accompanying narrative, opine that the low ranking is “a likely result from getting a group of less-satisfied customers from its acquisition of Albertsons. Supervalu’s challenge will be to improve the old Albertsons stores to the higher levels of satisfaction Supervalu has enjoyed.”

No doubt that is an apt summary of the challenge in front of Supervalu, but the study results also pose a couple of questions that have to do with the complexity of Supervalu as it’s currently configured: For instance, since Supervalu isn’t a consumer-facing brand for the most part, do consumers know what it is? Further, how did the study differentiate between Supervalu-owned Albertsons and Albertsons LLC, the store group not owned by Supervalu?

So I spoke with David Van Amburg, study director, to learn answers to those questions. He said consumer responses to any retail brand owned by Supervalu were attributed to Supervalu and that it matters little whether consumers know what Supervalu is or not. More, he said that consumers’ ZIP codes were ascertained so responses that had to do with Albertsons LLC were attributed to “all others,” not to Supervalu. So, sure enough, Albertsons is most likely the drag on Supervalu’s customer-satisfaction ranking. That further illustrates the low state reached by that chain prior to the time it was split apart and acquired.

Although the consumer-satisfaction rank that would be earned by Albertsons LLC is buried in the sea of “all others,” it’s a safe bet that those numbers would be far below those of Supervalu-owned Albertsons stores. After all, those were the least successful of all Albertsons. Most were operating at a minus 5% comparable-store rate. That’s the most telling satisfaction ranking of all, and the one that matters most.