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Big spenders, empty wallets

Consumers like what they see and aren't shy to buy

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published February 20, 2007


Customer satisfaction edged up to its highest level in three years among national retailers.

Credit pricing more than improved service or product quality.

"Consumers feel they get more value for the money," said Claes Fornell, the University of Michigan professor whose tabulation of customer satisfaction finds Americans raring to buy more despite spending more than they are earn. "Unless something dramatic changes, these economic forecasts of a soft landing will turn into no landing. Consumers are spending like there is no tomorrow."

Based on 20,000 consumer interviews taken each December, Fornell's index is an annual scorecard of retail competition.

For instance, in a season marked by deep price cuts to move a glut of digital TVs, Best Buy's rating soared 7 percent to 76, while rival Circuit City slipped 1 percent to 69.

Department and discount stores are the only retail segments with declines. Kmart, Kohl's, JCPenney, Sears and Wal-Mart were stagnant, while Target and Dillard's slipped 1 percent and Macy's slid 5 percent.

Wal-Mart has work to do. Its grocery rating slid 1 percent to 69. The discount chain's 72 is 10 percent below its 1990s average.

Among drugstores, Walgreens was static at a 76 while CVS, which acquired 1,200 Eckerd stores, rose 5 percent to 78.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or 727 893-8252.