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Amazon, Tweeter Top Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Tweeter Home Entertainment Group respectively ranked highest in customer satisfaction in two new CE retail surveys by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates. Independent dealers and Ultimate Electronics earned second-place kudos, respectively, in the two studies.

Consumer Reports, published by Consumers Union, the non-profit product testing service based here, rated 20 CE retailers on price, service and selection, based on feedback from 10,180 readers. J.D. Power, based in Westlake Village, Calif., and best known for its car satisfaction rankings, based its inaugural CE retailing study on feedback from 9,600 recent purchasers of digital cameras and high-end TVs.

Consumer Reports’ readers gave retailers high marks overall. Some 93 percent said they received excellent or good value for their money, although most comparison shopped before buying. What’s more, 77 percent said the sales staffs knew the products they were hawking, and 69 percent found them “interested in helping.”

Despite its lack of personal service, was ranked highest based on its strong reader ratings for price and selection. Independent local dealers came in second, scoring big on selection and service but only fair on price.

Other merchants earning high grades for selection were Best Buy, Circuit City, Ritz Camera and Fry’s. Ritz and Circuit also scored well on service, as did RadioShack, Sears and Good Guys, although Fry’s fell short on this criterion, which helped land it in last place in both studies.

Aside from Amazon, accolades for low prices also went to Costco and the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES).

By contrast, the J.D. Power study indicated that many consumers were willing to forgo the lowest price on high-end purchases in exchange for additional product features and the extra reassurance provided by a knowledgeable sales staff.

“Especially when consumers are making what they consider to be high-risk, high-involvement purchases like digital cameras and televisions, the extra service provided by a trained, experienced sales force to help make an informed decision is the key driver in closing the deal,” said Ron Conlin, partner at J.D. Power. “For this reason, specialty stores tend to outperform ‘big-box’ retailers in satisfying customers with the purchase experience, which can give them an edge during the highly competitive holiday season.”

The Power study discerned four factors that define the retail experience. Weighted by their effect on the overall performance ratings, they are sales personnel (33 percent), services (27 percent), store environment (21 percent) and merchandise (19 percent).

Tweeter earned the highest overall satisfaction index score by rating highest on all four performance measures. Among big box retailers, Sears rated highest on sales personnel and services, while Circuit City rated highest on store environment and tied with Best Buy on merchandise. Sam’s Club rated lowest among the big box retailers on all performance criteria except for store environment, where Wal-Mart rated lowest.

Separately, Consumer Reports also ranked the best places to buy computers, based on feedback from 43,384 online subscribers who bought new desktop PC between January 2003 and June 2004. The results: For superior help and salesperson savvy, the Web once again won out, led by the B to C e-commerce sites of Apple, PC/Mac Connection and IBM. Apple and PC/Mac Connection also did well on selection, as did Dell and CDW, although none of the 21 outlets that were rated scored well on price. What’s more, Wal-Mart and its Sam’s Club warehouse division both flunked out on help, savvy and selection.

Consumer Reports’ CE Store Rankings

J.D. Power’s CE Satisfaction Study