Tablets Drive PC Satisfaction Higher: ACSI

Carl Weinschenk

Carl Weinschenk spoke to David VanAmburg, managing director of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. The latest version of the ACSI was released on September 18.

The American Consumer Satisfaction Index suggests that the PC industry is benefiting from the rise of tablets. David VanAmburg told IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk that some folks are moving from PCs to tablets. The folks who remain with PCs do so because they like them. This leads to a higher level of satisfaction all around.

Weinschenk: What is the American Consumer Satisfaction Index?

VanAmburg: ACSI is a very large study that looks at four dozen industries that are critical to household consumers, from automotive to hotels, food products, cable and satellite television and a whole range of products and services that are frequently purchased and consumed.

We look at trends for companies and industries and say things on the national level about whether or not the consumer is satisfied or not satisfied and the impact of that on the economy. Specifically we are measuring things like wireless phones and … services. The category includes [things from] the old days, such as desktops and eventually laptops. It now includes the newest things, such as tablets and smartphones.

Weinschenk: What did you find in the PC and related sectors?

VanAmburg: What we found extends a trend that we saw when laptops became more and more popular. As technology gets more mobile, lighter and easier to take wherever people want to go — and as it is possible to do most or all things on desktops as you get more mobile — we are seeing a trend toward a higher level of satisfaction.

Weinschenk: What is necessary for this trend to occur?

VanAmburg: It functions on two critical components: The degree to which they make products or services that meet or match personal needs … and how reliably they do it.

With this move to more mobile and functional app-based rather than software approaches, we are finding consumers are increasingly satisfied with laptops and smartphones on both scores. Consumers feel they can do the things that they want to do with these devices. They can accomplish many of the things that use to be just possible on desktops. Secondly, those products over time are more reliable, less buggy, are less glitchy, make fewer errors. People have fewer problems with the devices.

Weinschenk: What is happening to the category as a whole, including the older-style devices?

VanAmburg: The industry as a whole improving. It now is at an all-time high since we started measuring it in 1994. We are finding now that satisfaction with a range of devices, including desktops, laptops or tablets is at an all-time high. The adaptation of tablets is raising the overall level of satisfaction with the industry because greater proportions of the devices are tablet users and that is the more satisfied group.

The PCs themselves are better than they were a few years ago. They are more powerful, have better processors and so on. They have all the bells and whistles people want. As fewer are buying them, we find that those who remain are loyal to the PC. They are by definition the more satisfied users. Those migrating are the least satisfied. But they are no longer buying them. The old guard who want to keep purchasing … are a slightly smaller group. But they are fiercely loyal to that type of product and are very satisfied with that type of product.

We partly are seeing numbers saying quality is improving. [It also is true] that, demographically, tablet users tend to be younger and have more money. Older folks tend to be a little more satisfied and easy going with the products and services that they buy.

Weinschenk: Is that based on research in this case, or suppositions from other areas you have studied?

VanAmburg: It based on lots of other experiences with other industries. For instance, the Lincoln [automobile] is a shrinking brand but people who buy them are fiercely loyal, and their loyalty is a function of being more satisfied.

Weinschenk: Is the size of the pie you are measuring changing?

VanAmburg: We’re looking at the same pie. We are dialing throughout U.S. and asking if people purchased a PC, laptop or tablet, and, if so, the brand. We are finding in the sample size that the proportion of tablet and laptops is growing and the size of the PC slice is getting a little bit smaller. Tablets were about 15 percent in 2011 and are getting close to 25 percent in 2012. The desktops have shrunk by roughly the same proportion. That hasn’t affected laptops too much. We are not seeing a lot of laptops migrating.

Weinschenk: What is your overall impression of the growth of tablets?

VanAmburg: I think the tablets are already scoring quite well on ACSI. They are among the top-scoring products we measure. What experience tells us is that they haven’t hit the ceiling yet, but they probably are not going astronomically higher. But I think it can go higher. If so, it would have something to do with price.

For televisions, we’ve been measuring since 1994, then cathode TVs were used and flat screens were just starting. What we found in the last couple of years is that the industry has been rising even higher — and it always has been strong in part because technology behind LCDs and other approaches is getting more interesting. A big part of the growing popularity is that the ability to manufacture them is evolving. That is driving prices down. Initially, it was high great technology that cost a lot. After a while, prices come down and people are even more satisfied. We’ve seen that with televisions and smartphones and will see it in tablets, too. We will see pricing start to come down or better products at a set price.

There is a balance between quality they want and the price they are willing to pay. When the price drops, vendors will have naturally happier customers.

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