Quentin Fottrell / MarketWatch – The most unpopular company among consumers is not an airline. And it’s not a mobile phone company.
The honor goes to the Time Warner Cable TWC, -0.72% Internet service provider, which placed last on the University of Michigan’s American Consumer Satisfaction Index. On a list of 230 household brands surveyed, TWC scored 54 out of a possible 100, just behind Time Warner Cable’s television service (56), the Comcast ISP (57) and United Airlines (60). Wal-Mart WMT, +1.31% was the most unpopular retailer on the list (71). The index scores each company based on more than 70,000 interviews conducted annually and uses a customer-satisfaction score, 10 economic sector scores, 43 industry scores, over 230 company scores, and more than 200 federal or local government service scores.
Cable companies have come under scrutiny in 2014 for their rising subscription rates and lack of choice within the market. Cable bills have more than doubled over the last decade and the average cable bill is roughly $112 per month, including Internet and telephone, according to research firm SNL Kagan. Earlier this year, TWC and Comcast announced plans to merge. (TWC has approximately 11 million video subscribers, and Comcast CMCS, +166.98% has around 22.6 million video customers.) More movies, television shows and live sporting events being produced by one company means less competition and more seller power, says Samuel Craig, director of the Entertainment Media and Technology Program at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“One of the things plaguing Wal-Mart at the moment is that they have cut the front-end staff too deeply,” says independent retail analyst Jeff Green. “Wait times at the checkouts have increased significantly, which seems to be offsetting the positive of Wal-Mart’s lower prices.” But the Wal-Mart consumer may also have been spoiled by low prices there, he adds, and “doesn’t continue to give the company credit for their low prices.” And Wal-Mart also made a “checkout promise” earlier this year to staff all checkouts during the busy holiday period. (“We strive for excellence and to serve our customers in each and every way every day,” a Wal-Mart spokeswoman says.) Labor unions protested at the annual general meeting in June over what they alleged was illegal retaliation against employees who’d publicly spoken about wage and benefits inequality. (Wal-Mart has consistently denied this.)
That said, companies like Apple AAPL, +1.25% — which scored a respectable 79 on the ACSI — often get a free pass because of their cult-like following, even though some of their own practices are controversial, according to Robert Kaestner, a professor of economics at the Institute of Public Affairs and at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “The same people who hate Wal-Mart love Apple,” he says. Earlier this year, the nonprofit organization China Labor Watch and Green America, a consumer advocacy group, alleged “serious health and safety, environmental, and human-rights violations” at a factory that manufactures aluminum cases for MacBooks and iPads. (“We know our work is never done, and we are devoted to constant improvement,” Apple said in a statement in response to the report.)