Budget PC brands see biggest gains in consumer satisfaction

Compaq and Gateway gain ground in the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index, but Apple maintains a wide lead.

In a poor economy, some budget PC brands are finding its customers happier than ever, according to this year's installment of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, an annual study completed by the University of Michigan each year.

In the 2009 rankings for PC makers, which are set to be released Tuesday, the brands whose rankings saw the most improvement were Compaq and Gateway. Compaq's score of 74 represented an increase of 5.7 percent, the largest gain among computer makers in the last year, and equaling the highest customer satisfaction ranking for the brand--owned by Hewlett-Packard--since 1996. The Acer-owned Gateway brand also saw an uptick in satisfied customers, attaining a score of 74, a 2.8 percent increase from last year.

"My guess is price has something to do with it," said Claes Fornell, director of the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan, which conducts the study. "(Compaq and Gateway) machines are typically priced somewhat below competition. Other than that things are stalling a bit in the industry, not moving one way or another."

The study asks 80,000 consumers to rank brands based on expectations of the product, previous experience, and comparison to an ideal version of the product. For PCs, a score of 78 out of 100 is considered good.

Despite those gains by Compaq and Gateway, the 2009 ACSI scores show that Apple continues to lead the pack by a mile, with a score of 84. Its next closest competitor, Dell, stands at 75, which was also the average score for all PC makers. HP moved from 73 to 74. Apple did see a slight decrease (from 85 last year), and on average all PC makers saw a 1.3 percent increase from 74 last year to 75 in 2009, reflecting an overall satisfied customer base, as well as very little change in dynamics in consumers' experience with their computers.

With an 11-point lead, Apple is one of only two companies evaluated by ACSI that dominates its category so totally, according to Fornell.

"It's unusual in any industry to have a lead like the one Apple has," he said. " Google has a similar lead ."

His explanation is that compared to others in their respective categories, both are "better at marketing what they have to offer to the public."

That marketing, besides drumming up good feelings in consumers, is also pushing up Apple's bottom line. The company just recorded its best non-holiday quarter in its history, selling 2.6 million Macs, a 4 percent increase from the same quarter a year ago. PC makers, on average, saw their sales dip 3.1 percent for the same quarter, according to IDC.

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

 

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