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Consumers Making Fewer Shopping Trips: Study

U.S. consumers are making fewer shopping trips across most retail outlets as they look for ways to combine errands and save money in an effort to battle rising gas prices and other economic pressures, according to research newly released by The Nielsen Co.

The Schaumburg, Ill.-based market intelligence firm's consumer packaged goods (CPG) research shows that while shopping frequency across most retail channels is flat or on decline, supercenters continue to show growth.

"Value and convenience are more important than ever as rising gas prices impact where and how often consumers shop," said Todd Hale, s.v.p./consumer & shopper insights, Nielsen Consumer Panel Services. "Long-term trends show us that all value retailers - - supercenters, warehouse clubs2 and dollar stores - - are gaining in their quest to grab shoppers. Keep in mind, however, that some U.S. grocers reported stronger same-store-sales growth than supercenters or dollar stores in 2007. Proximity to shoppers and a healthy focus on convenience and value helped many of these grocers deliver solid results."

Nielsen's research further shows that retailers are responding to consumers' desire for value and convenience with increased store openings. Store count is on the rise in many retail channels, particularly in warehouse clubs, supercenters, dollar stores and convenience stores. Store closings and conversions of mass merchandise stores to supercenter formats has resulted in a decline in overall mass merchandise count, and while supermarket count is up, the growth is not at the rate of other retail channels.

"Increased store counts tell us that value and convenience are winning in the marketplace," said Hale. "Convenience retailers have expanded aggressively, but this channel is facing competitive pressure as 'big-box' retailers offer lower-priced gasoline, attracting consumers."

Hale said certain grocery segments, such as deep discount retailers and high-end or specialty grocers, showed strong store count increases from 2001-2007. "New and remodeled mainstream grocery formats also helped to pave the winning ways for some grocers," he said.

Alternative channels, including hardware/home improvement stores, office supply stores and automobile supply stores and bookstores are increasing the level of competition for traditional retailers - and increasing the distribution opportunities for manufacturers.

CPG manufacturers have taken notice of alternative retail channels, explained Hale, citing as examples batteries and light bulbs, which "have always had a strong presence in the hardware and home improvement channel, But the product assortment in this channel is expanding to include products from non-grocery and even food and beverage. This trend only increases competition for traditional CPG retailers."

As such, it is critical for retailers and manufacturers to understand which consumers are shopping in the different retail channels. "Know your shoppers," Hale said, because understanding the demographics of loyal shoppers "is absolutely essential for growth. With this knowledge, retailers and manufacturers can determine the products and brands that are the best fit for the consumers shopping in their stores."

Nielsen's research also shows diversity in the types of consumers that are the biggest spenders in different retail channels. For example, younger and older bustling families are important to mass merchandisers, supercenters, grocery and warehouse clubs, while older couples and older singles show a preference for drug stores.

"Competition for shopper attention is fierce," said Hale. "Success will come to retailers who define themselves by who they sell to and how they sell them, not by what they sell, while success will come to manufacturers who define themselves by who they sell to and the issues they solve for their consumers and retail partners."
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