Grocery shop in flux: Study

The following is reprinted by permission from the Spring edition of in Sight, a quarterly newsletter on consumer trends put out by market research company ISL International Surveys, of Willowdale, Ont.Today's consumer seeks value in variety.It's a cliche with a lot...

The following is reprinted by permission from the Spring edition of in Sight, a quarterly newsletter on consumer trends put out by market research company ISL International Surveys, of Willowdale, Ont.

Today’s consumer seeks value in variety.

It’s a cliche with a lot of truth to it, that the only constant today is change.

Change in the grocery trade can be seen in where consumers go to do their shopping.

isl recently surveyed 4,500 households (chosen to be geographically and demographically representative of Canada) to find out where and how they did their grocery shopping, and compared the results with a similar survey done in 1991.

Key findings were as follows:

- Nationally, 62% of households visit an average of three to four stores to do their main grocery shop. This is up three percentage points from 1991.

- The biggest regional increase (six percentage points) was in Quebec.

Factors explaining this rise in ‘shopping around’ include the growth of membership clubs (Price Club is especially well-developed in Quebec, for instance), and the increasing availability of traditional grocery products in non-grocery store locations.

As a result, consumers have greater choice as to where they can buy their groceries.

From the survey, it was clear that drugstores and mass merchandisers are the biggest competitors for the traditional grocery dollar.

All of which makes it difficult for retailers to maintain the loyalty of their shoppers.

isl’s survey also looked at the effectiveness of promotional methods traditionally used by retailers.

The venerable store flyer found fairly strong acceptance, with 87% of households nationally looking at grocery store flyers to some extent (51% said they always review them.)

As to flyer effectiveness, 67% of survey households said they would switch stores because of an advertised special; however, three-quarters of these switchers said they would only do so for the special itself, and not for their entire grocery shop.

Another reason for consumers to switch grocery stores is when their favorite brand is not available as usual.

When asked what they do when their brand of choice is unavailable:

- 43% said they would postpone their purchase (up five percentage points from 1991)

- 33% would buy an alternate brand (down three percentage points from 1991)

- 24% opted to go to another store (down from 26% in 1991)

In conclusion, it is clear from the survey that consumers are ‘shopping around’ more often than in the past.

All indications are that this trend will continue in the future, placing added pressure on retailer efforts to keep their shoppers coming back.

Avoiding ‘unforced errors’ such as product unavailability, should help reduce the risk of losing shoppers to other stores.

Beyond doing this, perhaps the most significant conclusion is that retailers need to have a clearly defined strategy for serving the consumer (i