Countless barrels of printer's ink have been spilled over the topic of supercenters and what their rollout means for the conventional supermarket industry. But through it all, answers to the question of how successful the supercenter format will be in years to come -- and the real degree of threat the format poses to conventional operators -- remain a bit elusive. So, with this issue, SN contributes a little to that gush of ink about supercenters, and a lot to the flow of information and answers to questions.
ers think of supercenters generally, how they shop them, how often they shop, items they prefer, and so on, answers to everything else anyone might wonder about supercenters become more clear.
To find what consumers have in mind on just these matters, and more, SN did some research the old-fashioned way: We sent a reporter to a state-of-the-art Wal-Mart Supercenter to pose questions directly to exiting consumers about the shopping experience they had just had in the supercenter. Answers from those consumers form a part of this week's supercenter report.
To offer a little more context for the answers, let's take a look at some emerging supercenter trends and see what consumers say about them:
· DRAWING POWER: At issue here is whether shoppers will consistently drive by one or more conventional supermarkets to patronize a supercenter.
Members of our ad hoc supercenter consumer panel said they would do that, but there was a little resistance to traveling a distance to shop a supercenter on a frequent basis.
"We live in Madison [Va.], which is about 25 miles away," one said. "We come here about two times a month and otherwise go to the Food Lion and IGAs in Madison."
· PRICE: The question here is the degree to which supercenter shoppers are motivated by the price offer.
Respondents left little doubt that price was what they had uppermost in their minds in shopping the supercenter, and that they would buy all of their market basket, or portions of it, wherever they thought the cost to be least. "[The supercenter] is closer, but my basic grocery shopping is at Food Lion. Canned goods are cheaper at Food Lion, so I buy them there," said one shopper. "I think Food Lion still has the prices beat," said another. "I really shop by price."
· CROSS-SHOPPING: Here the quandary is whether shoppers will buy food and nonfood during the same trip to the supercenter. Evidentially, some will and some won't.
"I go to the Food Lion about once a week for my main grocery shopping because at Wal-Mart I know the toothpaste will be at one end of the store and the dog food will be over there. That takes time," said one shopper. But, said another: "The fact that [the supercenter] is big isn't a problem because I know where everything is. I buy everything here." · PERISHABLES: Supercenter perishable presentations are generally considered to be below par as compared to conventional supermarkets. But that may be changing.
"The produce is nice and I think it's a little cheaper here," said one shopper. "When I come here I like to go to the bakery, so maybe that's why it always costs more than when I go to Food Lion," said another.
In sum, then, it's apparent that a close look at consumer attitudes is bound to turn up areas of vulnerability in the supercenter model that conventional operators should exploit. As important, areas of supercenter strength conventional operators shouldn't challenge are also disclosed.
That means a conventional-store battle plan premised on identifying a few important reasons consumers prefer conventionals -- coupled with a program of pumping up and promoting those aspects of product, merchandising, price, or what have you -- should pay big dividends.