A recent Consumer Reports Study concluded that Publix, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Wegman's are among the most beloved supermarket brands in the United States. Customer service, attractive environments and variety and quality of choices contribute to creating memorable food shopping experiences.
The reality is most American's can't afford to shop in the more upmarket supermarkets these days making greatly disliked Walmart's supermarket business #1 in the US because of its prices and convenience.
I read excerpts of the report which also stated people prefer stores with shorter check out lines as part of good overall customer service. What I found interesting is my own kitchen research doesn't necessarily support this premise.
Here's what I have experienced.
First, customer service is at an all time low in virtually all supermarkets because they are trying to keep costs down. Food costs are not as easy to regulate as costs of staffing. I find customer service in Whole Foods for example in New York, LA and Miami extremely poor. Increasingly, I find behind the counter staff surly uninterested and make many customers feel like they are doing them are favor to provide service. The same is been experienced at Publix throughout Florida despite their mantra "Where shopping is a pleasure". Not necessarily so. Check out lines at Publix tend to be long and they are slow to open additional lanes when crowded. I find cashiers and baggers sometimes so involved in their own conversations they practically ignore the customer.
Another interesting observation I have found is that prices for the same items vary dramatically from market to market. I am not talking fresh foods per se (although they vary widely as well based on availability and distance from source) but rather basic commodity items from cleaning products to cookies. I did a mini research study of prices between Ralphs ( a division of Kroger Foods) in West Los Angeles and Publix in Miami Beach. I found prices in Ralphs on such basic items as Windex and Fig Newtons were vastly higher than in Miami Beach. The differences were as much as 50% higher in Ralphs vs. Publix yet I do not believe the key variable transportation costs should merit such a price difference. Ironically, Ralphs actively promotes "low prices" in their advertising efforts.
Additionally, Trader's Joes is the anomaly. Low prices, high quality pretty decent service and an interesting variety of products. It doesn't replace a supermarket for lots of items but my research consistently shows they check off most of consumers "must have" boxes for a good food shopping experience. Wish they had stores in Florida.....
Finally, I have found sometimes pricing in stores like Whole Foods is LOWER than pricing at Publix for example and although Whole Foods is generally more expensive that is not always the case especially with fresh foods and produce.
My conclusion is that perceptions about better service, pricing and products is quite variable and it is increasingly difficult for supermarket brands to distinguish themselves substantively. Thus, consumers (which they are apparently doing in larger numbers) are shopping around going from store to store rather than only shopping with one brand.
Watching out for you everyday.