Consumer Grocery Store Survey Reveals Wide Range of Satisfaction and Brand Preferences by Geography

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The Empathica Consumer Insights Panel surveyed North American consumers on how well grocery stores are delivering on customer service expectations today; Safeway and Wegman’s Food Markets rank highest across all service elements.

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Empathica Inc., a leading provider of Customer Experience Management (CEM) solutions to some of the world’s most respected brands, announced that its Consumer Insights Panel survey of more than 16,000 North American consumers ranked grocery stores on how well they deliver on customer service expectations across five primary service areas: merchandise, promotions, operations, people and technology. Consumers from each region also revealed their primary grocery store of choice based on their overall customer experience.

When looking at overall consumer sentiments in the U.S. versus Canada, grocery expectations for service elements were very similar. Consumers felt that operations and merchandise were the two most important elements in grocery shopping versus other elements such as promotions, people and technology.

Those doing best overall included Wegman’s Food Markets in the U.S., and Safeway in Canada. These conclusions were drawn by looking only at the most important customers for each brand, which are those who said they spend 50% or more of their money at that particular grocer. While Wegman’s had the highest scores across all service elements for the U.S., Trader Joe’s, Publix Super Markets, Harris Teeter and Whole Foods Market also ranked high across four out of the five service areas — yet falling short with promotions. The promotions category took into account loyalty programs, availability of coupons, as well as pricing, availability and frequency of promotions.

“In light of current economic conditions, grocery stores must pay attention to all service areas in order to preserve customer loyalty,” said Brian Jones, Empathica V.P. of Grocery. “Promotions are no exception. Although 48% of respondents consider electronic offers to be important, one-third felt those offers did not always meet their expectations. Grocers need to be aware of what their customers want, and to deliver accordingly. If you’re a grocer, and half of your customers are saying you don’t have enough electronic offers, you’re not making their experience with your brand the best that it can be.”

In Canada, Safeway had the highest score in meeting customer expectations across all service areas, with Overwaitea Food Group coming in a very close second. Wal-Mart Stores ranked near the bottom of the list for operations, people and promotions among Canadians. In the U.S., Wal-Mart ranked among the lowest in those same service areas, in addition to merchandise. A&P, C&S Wholesale Grocers and Unified Grocers also ranked among the lowest across all five service areas.

Consumers Rank Preferred Grocery Stores by Region – by Excellent Customer Experience
More than 85% of surveyed consumers indicated they will spend more or the same at grocery stores and supermarkets within the next three months. Additionally, more than half of consumers reported spending more than half of their grocery dollars at their primary supermarket.

“According to the survey, a considerable number of U.S. consumers shop at Wal-Mart for their groceries. In fact, more than one out of every four consumers shopped for groceries at Wal-Mart,” said Jones. “This is largely indicative of their prices. For low-cost brands like Wal-Mart and Costco, price is often the overall experience a customer has with the brand. For other grocers looking to compete with the Wal-Mart’s and Costco’s of the world, they must differentiate on the customer experience. It’s difficult to battle with them on price across all product categories, so to survive long-term, brands need to compete in a different way. That means being smarter about how they deal with their customers.”

Survey results show the top preferred grocers by region, based solely on the overall customer experience.

Top Five Grocers in U.S. Regions, Based on Overall Customer Experience:

Midwest:
1.    Giant Eagle
2.    Meijer Inc.
3.    Kroger Co.
4.    Hy-Vee Food Stores
5.    Aldi

Northeast:
1.    Wegmans Food Markets
2.    Delhaize America
3.    Ahold USA
4.    Wakefern Food Corp.
5.    Giant Eagle

South:
1.    Harris Teeter
2.    Publix Super Markets
3.    Kroger Co.
4.    H.E. Butt Grocery Co.
5.    Safeway

West
1.    Kroger Co.
2.    Safeway
3.    Supervalu
4.    Costco Wholesale Corp.
5.    WinCo Foods

Top Canadian Grocers by Region, Based on Overall Customer Experience:

West: Overwaitea Food Group and Safeway [tied]
Atlantic: Sobeys
Ontario: Loblaw Cos.
Quebec: Sobeys

For the comprehensive customer experience ranking of the top 20 U.S. and Canadian retailers, contact Bruce Warren at bwarren(at)empathica(dot)com or 905-542-9001, ext. 242.

About the Empathica Consumer Insights Panel:
The Empathica Consumer Insights serves as an authoritative voice on consumer based economic indicators; the retail, financial services and restaurant industries; consumer shopping intentions and customer satisfaction as reported by thousands of consumers in the U.S. and Canada. Results from Empathica’s Consumer Insights, led by Dr. Gary Edwards and Empathica’s Consumer Insights’ team, are published on a quarterly basis. The results are based on outbound Internet surveys with Empathica’s growing Insights Panel, derived from more than 30 million consumer surveys per year. Results have been weighted to reflect latest Census distributions in the U.S. and in Canada, including Region, Gender, Age and Income.

Aforementioned data is reported by the Empathica Consumer Insights Panel – Wave 1 2011, Issue 5.

For more information, visit http://www.empathica.com/insights/.

About Empathica:

Empathica provides Customer Experience Management programs to more than 200 of the world's leading brands, ranging from multi-unit retailers, to banks and restaurants. Its rich analysis of survey data using state-of-the-art surveying and dashboard reporting software allows for performance-improvement solutions, evidence-based marketing insights, and customer experience management consulting. Annually, Empathica's 30 million customer surveys in 25 languages reach more than 70,000 locations. A privately-held organization, Empathica is headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, has an office in Birmingham, England, and U.S. executive consultants in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Bozeman, Mont. For more information about deriving actionable insights that enhance a brand's operational excellence, visit Empathica at http://www.empathica.com.

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Lauren Eichmann
Walker Sands Communications
+1 (312) 265-3089
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Bruce Warren
Empathica Inc.
+1 (905) 542-9001 242
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