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Analyst takes look at Wal-Mart shopping experience

NEW YORK (AP) -- One analyst says that some of Wal-Mart's higher-income customers aren't as happy as they used to be.

Cowen's Faye Landes cited the firm's own survey in a client note Thursday. She said it showed that from December to March, higher- and middle-income shoppers became slightly less satisfied with customer services, prices and product selection.

Landes believes this may be due in part to there being fewer employees at each U.S. store. The analyst said that the number of workers per U.S. store went from 325 in 2010's fourth quarter to 289 in 2013's fourth quarter.

"Reduced store labor, despite the company's best efforts, likely results in some diminishment of customer service, which consumers may notice over time," she said.

Landes terms higher-income shoppers as those from households that make more than $100,000 per year. She says that three-quarters of those consumers shop at Wal-Mart at least once per month.

The average household incomes for Wal-Mart customers range from $30,000 to $60,000.

Fewer higher-income shoppers at Wal-Mart could hurt the chain's U.S. sales. The company is already dealing with the hit of higher payroll taxes and rising gas taxes on the poor and middle-class Americans who are its core customers. In late February, it forecast profit for this year that fell below expectations of Wall Street analysts at the time.

"We survey 500,000 customers per month who continue to tell us they have had a positive shopping experience. These customer satisfaction numbers have trended upward over the past two years. In this economy, we are continuing to see higher-income customers trade in to Walmart to take advantage of our everyday low prices," said spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan in an emailed statement.

Wal-Mart stock added 34 cents to $76.34 in afternoon trading.