US Customer Satisfaction Index Falls, Could Signal Spending Slowdown

21 March 2008

ANN ARBOR, Michigan: Customer satisfaction – as measured by  the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index – is travelling in a southerly direction for the first time since early 2005.

Down 0.1% to 75.2 on its 100-point scale, the index nevertheless remains 1% higher than a year ago. But, warns ACSI chief Professor Claes Fornell, even such a slight decline does not bode well for consumer spending in the holiday season. 

Says Fornell: "The dip in ACSI is largely attributable to higher food prices, and despite employment growth and holiday discount pricing, consumer spending is unlikely to match last year's fourth quarter growth."

Calculated annually at the end of every third quarter the indices provide a snapshot in time of the US non-durables sector ...

  • Athletic Shoes: Nike thinks outside the (shoe) box
    Nike makes the biggest gain of any company this quarter, climbing 4% to 75.  The company taps alternative sports like skateboarding to keep a step ahead of its rivals, and also partnered with Apple, to develop a shoe-iPod product designed for runners.

    “Nike is doing a better job of keeping up with customers' changing tastes,” says Fornell.  “They're broadening their appeal through innovative partnerships and more trend-setting styles.” 

    But shoe makers such as New Balance, Skechers, and Puma (included in the “all others” category) continue to lead the athletic shoe industry with a 3% increase to a score of 83.  Adidas, which acquired Reebok nearly two years ago, loses 1% to 77.  As an industry, athletic shoes improve 4% to 79, halting a two year slide. 

  • Food: Heinz tops ACSI, Sara Lee not so sweet
    Customer satisfaction with food companies declines 2% to 81, dropping for the first time since 2005.  But ACSI leader HJHeinz moves in the opposite direction with a 3% gain to 90, the highest score for any company in any industry covered by ACSI. 

    “Heinz is getting back to basics and focusing on what it does best,” said Fornell.  “They may have found their secret sauce for satisfaction by making their core products even better.”

    Campbell's Soup is also up this quarter by 4% to a score of 83.  Campbell's recently made improvements to their brands in order to appeal to customers' desire to live a healthier lifestyle.  Campbell's has been offering more health-conscious soups, as well as soup and broth alternatives flavored with sea salt to reduce sodium content. 

    Candy manufacturers Hershey and Mars also show strong performance with scores of 87 and 86 respectively.

    Sarah Lee falls 4% to 82 after shedding about 40% of its business over the past year.  Other decliners include Kraft, down 2% to 84, and Kellogg, down 2% to 83.

  • Apparel: Jones Apparel patches the holes; Liz Claiborne declines
    Apparel companies hit an all-time high of 82, increasing 3% over last year. VF Corporation leads the industry with a 2% increase to a score of 84, while Liz Claiborne registers the industry's only drop (-3% to 79).  Smaller companies, as measured in the “all others” category, manage a 3% improvement to 82.  Hanesbrands is unchanged from last year, also scoring 82.

    Jones Apparel, which declined 4% a year ago, regains most of what it lost as it improves to 81. “After last year's drop in ACSI Jones Apparel's stock fell 45 percent,” said Fornell.  “A reversal of misfortune would bode well for stockholders.”

  • Breweries: Anothe

    Data sourced from University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business (UK); additional content by WARC staff