Although overall satisfaction with supermarkets improved from earlier in the pandemic, supermarket operators should keep investing both in their stores and online programs to remain relevant and attract new customers.
Supermarkets have apparently rebounded from earlier 2020 scores on core experience factors and overall satisfaction, according to the fall 2020 installment of The Retail Feedback Group’s (RFG) “U.S. Online & In-Store Grocery Shopping Study.” The second installment of this report (the first was in April) provides key insights, collected during the COVID-19 pandemic, from both online and in-store supermarket shoppers.
Compared with April’s report, almost all of the core experience factors for supermarkets improved, with the biggest increases seen on a five-point scale, where five is highest, in variety/selection (4.25, up from 4.00) and value for money (4.10, up from 3.93). Overall satisfaction went from 4.08 to 4.23.
Shoppers also gave their opinions on various factors that enable supermarkets to differentiate from competitors, rating their primary stores. The two highest-scoring areas were providing good value for money spent and friendliness of associates, but the scores themselves were low — 3.63 and 3.62, respectively, on a five-point scale.
“While we saw a rebound for overall satisfaction, and across nearly all core experience factors, supermarkets need to weigh differentiators and how to leverage them in the current environment,” noted Doug Madenberg, principal at Lake Success, New York-based RFG, which offers a broad spectrum of research, consumer insight and consulting services. “In particular, a focus on providing good value for money spent remains a must, based on economic conditions. Further, although a challenging time, employee friendliness could never be more important, given the high impact it has on the likelihood of shoppers to recommend the store to others.”
While a larger percentage of consumers (39%) said that they’re shopping for food and groceries at about the same frequency as before the pandemic, compared with 20% earlier this year, 34% shop less often — a considerable decline from 55% in April — while 27% shop more often, similar to 25% earlier this year.
Almost half (45%) of the shoppers surveyed said that they’re spending more now as compared with before the pandemic, just slightly less than the 51% who said so in April. A higher percentage spend about the same currently — 38%, versus 30% — and only 18% spend less, versus 19% in the earlier survey.
Although 77% of consumers said that they plan to keep shopping at the same frequency at supermarkets in the next year, only about a third (32%) are highly confident that it’s safe to do so — virtually no change from the 33% who weighed in on store safety earlier this year.
As was the case earlier this year, shoppers continue to keep products from various categories on hand for longer periods of time, including fresh and shelf-stable items. For example, 59% of consumers now keep canned and boxed items on hand for a few months or more, compared with 43% before the pandemic. As for frozen foods, 45% of shoppers keep a few months on hand now, versus 34% before the pandemic.
The percentage of shoppers who said that the supermarket had everything they wanted to buy in stock soared to 76%, up from 49% earlier this year. For online shopping trips, this percentage increased to 68% from 51%.
Earlier in the year, 50% of in-store supermarket shoppers in the past 30 days also ordered groceries online. The latest study’s findings reinforced this earlier finding, as shoppers continue to make use of both in-store and online channels to meet their needs in similar proportions, with the greatest use among younger demographics.
With the highest percentage of shoppers noting that they most recently used Walmart for online grocery shopping (47%), that retailer continues to show growth, up from 40% earlier in the year. After growing to 34% in April, up from 22% last year, supermarkets fell to 25%, while Amazon edged up slightly, from 14% to 18%. Orders fulfilled by San Francisco-based Instacart continued to rise, increasing from 27% in 2019 to 36% earlier this year to 43% now.
When they were asked about buying grocery items online in the coming year, supermarket customers showed the lowest inclination to do so, with 32% saying they’ll shop online more, a decrease from 44% earlier this year, compared with 48% of Walmart customers and 54% of Amazon customers.
Overall satisfaction among online shoppers grew to 4.44, versus 4.38 earlier in the year, on a five-point scale. The same was true for Amazon (4.63, up from 4.47), Walmart (4.41, up from 4.38), supermarkets (4.37, up from 4.33), and the Instacart-fulfilled subset (4.46, up from 4.35). Additionally, overall satisfaction increased with service use, from 4.19 for first-time users to 4.72 among those using a service 20 or more times.
“As online shopping stabilized over the last several months, overall and channel satisfaction improved,” observed RFG Principal Brian Numainville. “Walmart benefited most from the surge in online shopping, showing continued growth, while supermarket shoppers slipped downward with the lowest percentage of shoppers, compared to Walmart and Amazon, indicating they plan to purchase grocery online in the coming year. However, with many shoppers continuing to shop online and in-store, supermarket retailers should continue to invest in both to remain relevant and attract new customers.”
The study is based on a nationally representative sample of 2,000 respondents who shopped in-store and/or online for food and groceries in the past 30 days.
RFG’s Constant Customer Feedback, the first automated feedback platform specifically designed and introduced for supermarket retailers, is currently implemented in hundreds of locations across the United States.
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart operates more than 11,300 stores under 56 banners in 27 countries, and e-commerce websites, employing 2.2 million-plus associates worldwide. Walmart U.S. is No. 1 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer's list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America, while Walmart-owned Sam’s Club ranks No. 9 on PG’s list. Seattle-based Amazon is No. 2.