The fast food experience is on the upswing with consumers in 2016, as higher quality drives improving scores for the industry.
ACSI Presidential Election Survey: October 31 to November 3, 2016
As a tumultuous election season draws to a close, ACSI’s latest polling shows the two presidential candidates in positions that vary little from initial surveys conducted early August. With just days to go before November 8, Democrat Hillary Clinton’s projected voter share stands at 48% to Republican Donald Trump’s 41%. This final popular vote count is closely aligned with ACSI’s inaugural survey projection of Clinton 49% and Trump 39%.
Over the course of the survey cycle, Clinton consistently has shown an advantage over Trump, with the narrowest spread occurring just after Labor Day (5 points). In the election’s final week, the gap is 7 points in Clinton’s favor.
The ACSI survey characterizes supporters as “strong” or “weak” depending on the gap in both satisfaction and expectations for each of the candidates. In the polling conducted between October 31 and November 3, 2016, Clinton loses some strong support, down 4 points to 35%, while Trump shows a slight uptick to 29%. For weak support, both candidates gain 2 points but remain nearly deadlocked at 13% (Clinton) and 12% (Trump). Undecideds increase for a second week to 12%.
The final demographic breakdowns of voter share have Clinton ahead in nearly every age, gender, and ethnic category. Consistent with most prior weeks of polling, Trump carries the advantage among older voters and those with less than a college degree.
The ACSI surveyed 1,543 registered voters nationwide from October 31 to November 3, 2016, for a total of 15,220 since polling began on August 1, 2016. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points for voter share.
ACSI Presidential Election Survey: A Measure of Voter Satisfaction With the Major Party Candidates and Their Campaigns
Week of September 5 to September 9, 2016
The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) launches a new study tracking “voter satisfaction” with the race for U.S. president, to be updated each week with new data until November 7, 2016 (the day before the election).
Customer satisfaction is a proven predictor of purchases of goods and services; therefore, it should have predictive power for presidential elections as well. Like consumers, voters may pick candidates based on the “expected satisfaction” that a candidate will deliver. Expected satisfaction, in turn, is predicted by current satisfaction. Accordingly, the ACSI will track expected and current satisfaction with the two major party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
In markets for goods and services, current satisfaction is determined by a customer’s “consumption experience.” In the absence of any such actual experience prior to the inauguration of a new president and a period of actual governing, the ACSI uses a proxy that measures satisfaction with each candidate’s campaign. From these two measures—expectations and satisfaction with the candidates and their campaigns—both the breadth (“market share” or voter share) and depth (satisfaction) of support are derived for each candidate. An algorithm for estimating voter share and satisfaction is used to group registered voters into “strong” and “weak” supporters of each candidate and to identify both the size and satisfaction levels of those groups.
Beginning with data from the week of August 1 to 5 for the first wave and ending with the week of September 5 to 9, a total of 5,311 interviews were conducted thus far. During the first week of August, voter satisfaction was 74 for Clinton and 72 for Trump. These results do not represent percentages but rather ACSI scores on a scale from 0 to 100. The corresponding estimated voter share (or market share) in week one for Clinton was 49% versus 39% for Trump. Thus, not only was Clinton’s satisfaction score higher than Trump’s, her share of the vote also was substantially higher.
Following the first week of August, voter satisfaction for Trump slipped, rebounded, and peaked, and then declined for two consecutive weeks. During the same period, Clinton’s voter satisfaction was mostly flat, but then also declined for two weeks. According to the most recent data, Clinton’s satisfaction score has dropped to 73 (-1), while her voter share has receded 2%. Meanwhile, Trump’s satisfaction is unchanged since the first week of August, although he has gained in voter share (+3% to 42%). Nevertheless, Clinton continues to lead in both voter satisfaction (73 vs. 72) and voter share (47% vs. 42%).
Unlike traditional trial heat polls, measuring current and expected satisfaction with the major party candidates allows researchers to group voters into “strong” and “weak” support groups. In the diagram, “strong” supporters are those defined as being much more satisfied with one candidate and much less so with the other. “Weak” supporters are defined as those only somewhat more satisfied with one candidate over the other. “Undecideds” express equal satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the two candidates.
For Clinton, 35% are strong supporters. For Trump, 30% are strong supporters. When combining strong and weak supporters, Clinton currently has a voter share of 47% and Trump has 42%. 11% are equally satisfied or dissatisfied with the candidates.
The following table shows how support for each candidate has fluctuated over the past six weeks. For Trump, the share of strong supporters has risen from 27% to 30%, while Clinton’s has actually declined (to 35% in week six from 38% in week one). Undecideds have shrunk from 13% of the total to 11%, although the number of undecideds is actually higher now than in the prior week.
The following tables depict voter share for each candidate for the week of September 5 to September 9 among various demographic groups. Clinton holds a strong lead over Trump among respondents 18 to 34 and a slight lead among voters 35 to 54. The two candidates are nearly even among voters 55 and above. Similarly, Clinton holds a big lead among women, while enjoying a smaller lead among men.
Clinton holds a massive lead over Trump among African Americans and a strong lead among Hispanics, but among white voters the two are tied. Finally, respondents with less than a college degree break decisively for Trump, while those with a college degree or more favor Clinton by almost 20 percentage points.
Americans are happier than ever before with online news channels as a raucous presidential election cycle keeps readers coming back for more. While internet news and opinion shows only modest fluctuations over time, the year 2016 proves record-breaking for this e-business category, with user satisfaction springing upward 4.1% to 76 on a scale of 0 to 100. People are fascinated with the news right now, and the bump in satisfaction is reflecting greater interest in opinion pieces and updates from readers’ favorite sites.
Satisfaction improves nearly across the board for news websites, regardless of political leaning, although the biggest gain goes to the group of smaller websites, up 7% to 77. This group encompasses a wide variety of outlets—from BuzzFeed and Drudge Report to the online presence of The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. FOXNews.com retains its lead with an 4% boost to 79. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post, part of Verizon Communications’ AOL subsidiary, can’t shake last place despite a 1% gain to 72—a new high for the website.
In today’s 24-hour news cycle, the internet is the ideal vehicle for delivering content quickly and in a steady stream, and digital news sites are upping their game. Consumers of online news give the industry a high score for freshness of content (80). Key elements such as ease of navigation and information variety are up 4% from a year ago. The exception—consistent across all e-business categories—is amount of advertising, which rates quite low at 68, down 4% over the past year.
Just one year ago, Time Warner Cable (TWC) tumbled to last place for customer satisfaction among 300+ companies in the ACSI. Along with TWC, Comcast showed the biggest ACSI loss among subscription television providers, a situation that has turned around in 2016. This year’s gains for Comcast and TWC (14% and 16%, respectively), come close to reversing two years of losing satisfaction, but neither company breaks out of the bottom quartile of the ACSI. While Comcast failed to nail down a marriage with TWC, Charter Communications is tying the knot, which will bring an end to the TWC brand.
ACSI results show Charter’s customer satisfaction fluctuating, now down 6% to 60 as the company begins its stint as the second largest U.S. cable operator following acquisitions of TWC and Bright House Networks. Among broadband players, Bright House at 66 is a cut above most. Nevertheless, like all cable companies, Bright House lags behind the fiber optic leaders of the pay TV industry, Verizon Fios (70) and AT&T U-verse (69), as well as satellite operators DIRECTV (68) and DISH Network (67). As a group, cable companies bring up the rear, but the range of scores is broad—from the above-average showing of Bright House and Cablevision to the last-place performance of Mediacom (54).
Mergers overwhelmingly dampen customer satisfaction in the short term, which could spell trouble for Bright House customers as the brand phases out and combines with Charter. For Charter, the challenge will be keeping satisfaction levels from falling further as it takes on a bigger slice of the market.
When it comes to pleasing consumers, the smartphone market is essentially a two-horse race, with Apple and Samsung running nearly neck-and-neck for the past two years. In 2014, Samsung gained an advantage in ACSI overall, posting 81 on a 0-100 scale to Apple’s 79, but the two market leaders deadlocked the next year.
Results from a recent report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index show Apple inching ahead to grab the customer satisfaction lead in 2016, propelling the cell phone industry average up to 79 (+1.3%). Lenovo’s Motorola Mobility comes in a distant third at 77 (-3%).
Drilling down to the brand level reveals a preponderance of Samsung and Apple devices at the top, led by Samsung’s Galaxy Note5 at 86. Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus is a mere point behind at 85, while two more Galaxy phones clock in at 84 (S6 edge+ and Note 4). Altogether, a dozen Apple or Samsung models score above the industry ACSI average of 79, with only Motorola’s Moto G penetrating this group at 81.
In general, phones with bigger screen sizes are more satisfying to users. The top four devices in 2016 sport displays that range from 5.5 to 5.7 inches. Among the newest iPhones, Plus models do better than their base versions (iPhone 6s Plus and 6 Plus edge 2 points ahead of 6s and 6, respectively). There are exceptions; for example, the Galaxy S III (4.8-inch display) does quite well with an ACSI score of 80. This older Samsung model ties Galaxy S6 and nudges past S4, S5, and Grand Prime (screen sizes of 5.0 to 5.1 inches).
Consumers respond well to naming their own price as online travel agency Priceline surges 8% to grab the lead in the tightly grouped Internet travel service industry. While there has been considerable consolidation among online booking sites, many continue to operate as separate brands. With an ACSI score of 81, Priceline tops the three big names under the Expedia umbrella despite smaller gains for Expedia-owned Travelocity (+4% to 78) and Orbitz (+3% to 77). Nearly lockstep with its other major brands, Expedia’s namesake booking site holds steady at 77.
Smaller websites, grouped together as “all others,” tend to place at or near the top of the Internet travel industry, which makes Priceline’s ascendency in 2016 noteworthy. Nevertheless, the range of scores among all travel sites is typically quite narrow and the industry overall suffers from lack of differentiation. This year, the aggregate of smaller websites straddles the Expedia-Priceline divide with a score of 79 (+1%), perhaps reflecting the group’s conglomeration of brands that include Expedia’s Hotels.com and Priceline’s KAYAK.com and Booking.com.
The real competition for online travel agencies may well be the websites of hotels and airlines. According to 2016 ACSI data, hotels offer a better online experience than Internet travel agencies. Airline websites, meanwhile, are going head-to-head with Internet travel sites, matching the online industry’s overall customer satisfaction level.
Both airlines and hotels are working harder than ever to boost loyalty and encourage direct booking. While online sites bring customers to these industries, the commissions they charge reduce net revenue per customer. Given the strong website satisfaction scores for both hotels and airlines, the convenience of one-stop shopping alone via online travel sites may not be enough to keep customers away from direct booking.
The merger of Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts would create the world’s largest hotel operator by room count, but would customers win if the merger completes this summer as planned? Marriott has an undisputed record of above-average guest satisfaction in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, occupying the top tier among hotel chains for over a decade. In 2016, Marriott (ACSI score of 80) places a close second to Hilton (81), and its JW Marriott luxury offering leads among brands at 85.
Marriott’s latest move—adding Starwood’s 10 brands to its existing array of 19—could help stabilize the more uneven ACSI performance of Starwood. Or, the merger could put downward pressure on Marriott’s strong customer satisfaction given the pitfalls that often come with blending operations. ACSI data show that most mergers, at least in the short term, tend to depress customer satisfaction. Looking at Starwood’s track record in the ACSI, the company has at times rivaled Marriott for guest satisfaction, but more often Starwood has lagged behind by as much as 6 to 7 points.
While most Marriott brands pass the threshold for superior customer satisfaction (score of 80 or higher), some show room for improvement—especially AC Hotels, which scores much lower at 74. By contrast, the lowest-rated Starwood brand, Sheraton at 78, outpaces AC Hotels by a significant margin. Americans may be less familiar with the AC name, however, as Marriott entered a joint venture to operate European-based AC Hotels in 2011. The brand came into the U.S. market in 2013, with the first AC Hotels by Marriott opening in late 2014.
ACSI’s February report on the retail sector shows customer satisfaction down 2.6% year over year for the 2015 holiday season, as consumers may be looking for more in their shopping experiences. Shopper satisfaction overall hit a high mark two years ago amid a post-recession economy where businesses were trying harder to please customers.
As recovery settles in, that honeymoon is over and five of six retail categories return to customer satisfaction levels that align with long-term ACSI averages. While most retailers show ACSI declines compared with 2014, consumers continue to prefer the online shopping experience.
Brand names, ample selection, and quick payment makes Internet retailers hard to beat compared with brick-and-mortar stores. While the 2015 holiday shopping season proved tough on customer satisfaction across the entire retail sector, Web retailers overall remain pacesetters in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
In February’s ACSI Retail report, Internet retail dips 2.4% year-over-year for 2015, but still leads the sector with an ACSI score of 80 on a 0-100 scale. At 77, specialty stores like pet suppliers, book sellers, or wholesale clubs give Web retail its biggest challenge, but department and discount stores, supermarkets, and drug stores all trail far behind with subpar customer satisfaction levels (73 to 74).
The top draw of online shopping for customers is an easy and speedy purchase process (ACSI benchmark of 88). Meanwhile, shoppers lining up in traditional stores may be tapping their heels in frustration. Department and discount stores fare worst when it comes to checkout speed (70), followed by supermarkets (72). Specialty retailers are more efficient at ringing up sales (76), but still lag the Internet for checkout by a yawning 12 points. Web retail also has a strong advantage over brick-and-mortar when it comes to merchandise variety and selection, including brand names (84).
Traditional stores, however, are closing the gap to Internet retail through the Web channel. Across the four brick-and-mortar categories, website satisfaction ranges from 78 to 81, which is comparable to the overall satisfaction score of 80 for Internet retail.
Call centers also represent a touch point where traditional stores can match or even beat e-tail. ACSI data show that the least satisfying aspect of the Web retail experience is customer support (77), which includes live chat, call centers, or help pages. Specialty retailers and drug stores offer a personal touch that exceeds Web retail by way of courteous and helpful staff and smoothly operating call centers (benchmarks ranging from 79 to 83).
On the other hand, department and discount stores fail to gain any advantage over online retail via either face-to-face customer service (77) or call centers (75). Moreover, department and discount stores overall provide the least satisfying customer experience among the four brick-and-mortar groups—a situation that does not bode well for an industry already under siege from the explosive growth of Web retail.