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As PC Demand Slips, Desktop Approvals Climb

 Customer demand for computing devices continues to decline, but a new study from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) shows an unusually high satisfaction rate from a somewhat surprising category segment — desktops.

The annual measure of personal computers fell 1.3 percent to an ACSI score of 78 (on a 0-100 point scale), the report found, with laptops showing the largest decline (-4 percent to 76), while tablets dipped slightly (-1 percent to 80). But desktops, ACSI said, gained 3 percent to take the lead at 81 points out of 100.

The results could, in part, be a measure of consumer satisfaction of overall computer horsepower, where desktops hold the edge for demanding tasks like video game play, photo and video editing and video and music streaming and editing.

The ACSI is affiliated with the University of Michigan and is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States.

The ACSI data is culled from interviews with roughly 70,000 customers annually as part of an econometric model for analyzing customer satisfaction with more than 230 companies in 43 industries and 10 economic sectors, as well as over 100 services, programs, and websites of federal government agencies.

The “ACSI Household Appliance and Electronics Report 2014” tracks three durable product categories: household appliances; personal computers (including desktops, laptops and tablets); and televisions and video players.

According to the study, while PC satisfaction slipped, televisions have become the highest-scoring category in the Index with a 1.2 percent rise to 86 while household appliances remained stable at 80.

Meanwhile, user satisfaction for smaller PC makers’ mobile computing devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, have adversely affected demand for desktop PCs, as consumers postponed replacing older desktops in favor of mobile platforms.

According to ACSI, “declining user satisfaction and cooling demand for tablets suggest that manufacturers have not kept up with consumer expectations.”

The reach indicates that growing satisfaction with desktops and weakening satisfaction for tablets and laptops might present an opportunity for manufacturers to exceed buyer expectations with innovative desktop PCs – “but only smaller manufacturers are succeeding in this regard, as all of the largest PC makers deteriorate,” ACSI said.

As for company ratings: Apple dropped 3 percent to 84, but maintained the sizable lead it has held since 2004 over its major competitors.

Companies with smaller market share, such as Samsung, Lenovo and Asus, are closing in, up 8 percent to an ACSI score of 82, the index showed.

Large Windows-based PC manufacturers did not fare well as group.

Dell declined 4 percent to tie Acer at 76, followed by Toshiba (-4 percent to 75), and Hewlett-Packard, which plunged 8 percent to the bottom of the category at 74.

“The increase in customer satisfaction for PCs could mean two different things,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder. “Either the product is seen as more attractive now and is poised for a comeback, or it has higher customer satisfaction simply because those who were less than happy with it have moved to other devices. If dissatisfied customers leave and satisfied customers stay, average satisfaction may well go up.”

As for major household appliances, the index showed the category to be one of the most consistent in the study.

The overall ACSI score for manufacturers of washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, ranges and ovens held steady with a score of 80. Although a relatively high score, ACSI said that for individual manufacturers “it also implies a lack of differentiation and low pricing power.”

Market-share leader Whirlpool topped the industry again with an ACSI score of 81. This year Whirlpool tied the aggregate of smaller manufacturers, including LG, Samsung and Bosch.

Electrolux (+1 percent to 79) recovered some from a big drop last year, and is replaced by General Electric in last place after GE tumbled 4 percent to a company all-time low score of 77.

“The sharp decline in customer satisfaction for GE raises some concerns now that the company has agreed to sell its appliance division to Electrolux,” explained ACSI Director, David VanAmburg. “The acquisition will make Electrolux much bigger – rivaling Whirlpool for market share – but in light of GE’s weak customer satisfaction, it is questionable whether it will make the new entity better.”

The satisfaction rate for televisions and Blu-ray Disc/DVD players, meanwhile, improved 1.2 percent to an ACSI score of 86, an all-time high for the category that is also the best among all industries tracked by the ACSI.

The study found that lower prices and “smart” technology are propelling big-screen TVs in particular to the highest satisfaction levels in the study.

A copy of the full report is available on the ACSI website at the organization’s website.