Quentin Fottrell / MarketWatch – The most unpopular company among consumers is not a cable company. And it’s not an airline.
The honor goes to big box retailer Wal-Mart , which placed last on the list of the University of Michigan’s American Consumer Satisfaction Index. On a list of 230 household brands surveyed, Wal-Mart scored 54 out of a possible 100, just behind Time Warner Cable (56), Comcast (57) and United Airlines (60). 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.
“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.
Last year Wal-Mart suffered bad publicity around the holidays when employees organized a holiday food drive for colleagues at a Canton, Ohio, store. That reignited the debate about low pay for many of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million workers in the U.S. (“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’ve publicly spoken about wage and benefits inequality. (Wal-Mart has consistently denied this.)
That said, companies like Apple — 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 in 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.)