Customer satisfaction with apparel brands held steady this year but remained at its lowest point since 1997.

This year’s American Customer Satisfaction Index for apparel stayed at 79 on a scale of 100 after descending to that level from 80 between 2011 and 2012. That’s above its historic low of 77, reached in 1997, and tied with the mark set during four consecutive years — 1998 through 2001 — as well as in 2004.

Apparel’s best showing was the 83 reached in 2010.

Among ranked apparel brands, Levi Strauss & Co. scored the highest with a rating of 82, followed by Hanesbrands Inc. and VF Corp., both at 81, and The Jones Group Inc. at 80. Levi’s score matched its mark from 2012, when it was tied with both Jones and VF. “All other brands” descended to a ranking of 78, down from 79 last year.

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Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and chairman, noted that customers didn’t consider lower prices brought on by markdowns to be a sufficient explanation for perceived lower quality.

Athletic footwear was the sole nondurable goods category to post an increase in this year’s study, moving up to 81 from 80. Adidas, including ratings for Reebok, jumped to 80 from 77, while Nike Inc. ticked down to 78 from 80. “All other brands” within the category were up 3 points to 83.

Fornell pointed out that the study is subject to several variables, with improvements in market share sometimes working against customer satisfaction as brands struggle to meet heightened demand.

“In the extreme, if a company got rid of all but one of its customers and served that customer really well, it would have a high customer satisfaction score but no market,” he noted. “One should always check if defecting customers might be a reason for rising averages in customer satisfaction.”

By industry, televisions and video players rank highest at 85, followed by soft drinks and consumer shipping, which both score 84. Internet service providers have the lowest ranking by sector, at 65, with Internet social media and subscription television services tied for the next worst ranking at 68.

Founded at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and updated annually, the ACSI is derived from interviews with 70,000 consumers in the U.S. The firm plans to release its first customer satisfaction rankings for Web sites next month.

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