Grocery Store Favoritism: What’s the Secret?

Shoppers are picky about their grocery stores — and they should be. Most consumers spend a significant amount of time every week at their stores of choice gathering food to feed their families. In fact, most visit a grocery retailer at least twice a week — some as many as four or five times. Few other industries benefit from this much face-time opportunity with consumers.

So, what’s really important to consumers today when selecting the store they will visit as many as 15 or 20 times a month? And how do people rank grocery stores in their communities against this all-important wish list?

According to research from the Food Marketing Institute in 2009, consumers care most about low prices, a clean store, high-quality produce, great variety, courteous staff, high-quality meats, convenient location, fast checkout, good sales and promotions, and accurate pricing and tags.

Within this priority list, consumers see grocery store performance falling short on low prices, high-quality meats, accurate tags, fast checkouts and courteous staff.

Market Force, a Louisville, Colo.-based provider of customer intelligence solutions, was curious to learn more about retail grocery store loyalty and favoritism to glean insights on how to delight the customer more consistently, as well as to find out which brands are excelling and why.

The company sent a survey to the most active participants of the company’s 300,000-member contractor network, affectionately called “the Force,” in January 2010. The Force gathers customer experience data for companies in industries that serve customers directly: grocery stores, mass grocers, retailers, etc. They are remarkably representative of the target consumers we all want to reach.

The 6,000 consumers that took part in these surveys closely match the typical target market for grocery goods:

—75 percent are women, the primary buyers of consumer products
—50 percent earn more than $50,000 a year
—80 percent work full- or part-time
—Two-thirds are married
—50 percent have children living at home

Prompted by a list of the top 118 store chains for groceries according to Hoovers and the Food Marketing Institute, surveyed consumers were asked the following question: “At which of the following supermarkets do you enjoy shopping for groceries the most? This may not be the store where you shop most frequently, but the one at which you enjoy shopping for groceries the most.”

Kroger, Publix and Safeway led the pack, followed by Whole Foods, ShopRite, Albertsons, HEB, Trader Joe’s, and Wegmans Food Markets. Considering how many possible choices there were (118), that’s a really strong showing for these supermarkets. Market Force found it particularly interesting that relatively tiny Wegmans, with only 75 stores, got so many votes.

Wegmans’ strong showing led Market Force to further analyze the data because — in terms of store numbers — not all chains are created equal. West Coast consumers may select Trader Joe’s as their favorite, but a Colorado consumer wouldn’t, because Trader Joe’s has no presence in that state. Kroger (just the Kroger brand, not the other brands it owns) has almost 1,200 stores across the country, while Wegmans, as mentioned, has just 75.

So Market Force indexed the scores to see what would happen. As might have been anticipated, after the company indexed the survey results based on total number stores for each retailer, Wegmans jumped to the top, followed by ShopRite, Albertsons and Whole Foods.

When Market Force asked its survey participants to rank their favorite grocery store based on the list of preferred criteria from above, Wegmans outscored every other favorite supermarket chain by wide margins in almost all attributes that matter: quality products, courteous staff, inviting atmosphere and cleanliness. What’s even more surprising is that the grocer provides all of that, while also providing good sales and promotions, and low prices. Consumers are clearly extremely happy with the Wegmans experience.

What’s the significance of creating the best possible customer experience? Additional Market Force research reports that great execution results in a huge pay-off to the company:

—Customers of stores with excellent operations are 60 percent more willing to recommend the grocer than those stores that were operationally challenged
—Highly satisfied customers are less likely to shop at competitors and willing to spend more
—The average ticket of satisfied customers is 3 percent higher than less satisfied customers

And poor execution that results in a poor shopping experience can produce the opposite. Market Force identified two areas that really made shoppers unhappy: not finding help when they needed it, and long wait times at checkout. These two items were the ones that made shoppers most likely to go elsewhere.

The Market Force survey also reviewed consumer perceptions of the top mass grocers as well, such as Walmart, Costco, BJ’s and Target, and what inspires a consumer to try a new CPG product. The complete report is available at

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