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Walmart Checkout

Everyone loves a good popularity contest. Which is why, as you may have read this week, media outlets pounced on a survey that proclaimed Trader Joe’s the most popular grocery store in the country. Some even gleefully pointed out that Walmart was ranked as the “worst”.

But the truth, as they say, is a little more complicated. The fact remains that, popularity aside, Trader Joe’s is a niche player, and Walmart has piles and piles of money.

How could that be, if shoppers ranked Walmart as their least favorite place to get their groceries?

The retail research firm Market Force Information surveyed 6,600 shoppers across the country and asked them which grocery stores they shopped at most often, and what they thought about them.

And, yes, Trader Joe’s “won” and Walmart “lost”, but that depends on your definitions. And it depends on a close reading of the questions that were asked.

The actual questions were, how satisfied were shoppers with their most recent grocery shopping experience, and how likely were they to recommend the store to others?

Trader Joe’s scored highest on a combination of both factors, so it was judged “North America’s favorite grocery store based on customer satisfaction.” But, technically speaking, not the most popular – just the most popular among people who already shop there. In other words, people who love to shop at Trader Joe’s really really love Trader Joe’s, in the cultish kind of way that Trader Joe’s shoppers do.

On the flip side, Walmart was ranked “North America’s least favorite grocery store based on customer satisfaction” – among people who already shop there. Just as the Trader Joe’s figures don’t include those who’ve perhaps never been to a Trader Joe’s, the Walmart figures don’t include those who would never set foot in one of their stores.

But still, if Walmart ranks last among even those who shop there – why are they still shopping there?

Turns out they don’t hate it THAT much. While only about 35% who chose Walmart as their primary grocer would recommend it to others (compared to 95% of Trader Joe’s shoppers), Walmart still earned a satisfaction score of four, on a five-point scale. So, no, they may not love it as much as Trader Joe’s shoppers love their store, but they’re okay with it.

That’s because shoppers who frequent Trader Joe’s, Walmart and every store in between, are looking for different things. And any store on the list of 30 grocery chains might be your “favorite” store, depending on what matters most to you. Overall, when asked what they liked about their preferred grocer, shoppers most often said “convenient location”, “low prices”, “good sales and promotions”, “variety and selection” and “one-stop shopping” – few of which even apply to a specialty, limited-assortment store like Trader Joe’s. Walmart was tops in “one-stop shopping” and did well in the “low prices” category.

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods scored high in categories such as the quality of their products, courtesy of staff and the overall inviting atmosphere. Among traditional grocery stores, Publix also earned high marks. Winn-Dixie scored highest in “good sales and promotions”, and Ralphs was mentioned most often as having a “convenient location”. But then those attributes could be perceived as damning those chains with faint praise – if the number-one reason people go to Winn-Dixie is because they have a lot of stuff on sale, and the best thing people have to say about Ralphs is that there’s one near their home, that may not be saying much overall about how well-liked the stores actually are.

It’s what the survey doesn’t tell us, though, that’s the most telling. When it comes to the category that really matters – earning shoppers’ grocery dollars – Walmart is the elephant in the room. When Market Force offered a breakdown of the most frequented grocery stores by region, it explained away Walmart’s absence from the regional rankings by saying “because Walmart is so ubiquitous nationwide… we will omit Walmart from the following regional brand analysis.”

But consider the numbers. The store most frequented by survey respondents in the Northeast was Stop & Shop – with just 11% of the total. Kroger won in the South and Midwest, with 16% and 11% respectively. And Safeway was tops in the West, with just 12%. The rest of the rankings were fragmented among more than a dozen other stores in each region. In sum, the regional figures added up to as little as 64%. Which suggests that someone – perhaps the retail giant excluded from the results? – is earning as much as 36% of shoppers’ grocery dollars, obliterating the stores otherwise ranked in the regional breakdowns as “number one”.

Nationally, Walmart was named as the most frequented grocery option for 20% of shoppers, while just 1.4% said the same about Trader Joe’s. So Trader Joe’s was named the continent’s favorite grocery store, because 1.4% of shoppers really like it.

It’s nice to have fanatic followers who gush over a store’s tropical decor and Two Buck Chuck. But when it comes to the bottom line, and the continued dominance of Walmart – winning popularity contests isn’t everything.

2 Comments

  1. Cheryl Graber says:

    I enjoy shopping at Walmart because they, unlike the partner Sam’s Club, allow the use of any credit card and coupons. Sam’s Club says they are losing money and that they only accept their personal store credit card and Discover. No one, or at least most people, will change credit cards to be able to use at Sam’s Club. This is why B.J.’s Club is raking in the former Sam’s customers where coupons and coupons are permissible. If Walmart can accept these why can’t Sam’s? They are owned by the same parent company. My Sam’s Club locally is ALWAYS full and busy. Sam’s Club never answer the emails of their “supposedly valued customers whereas Walmart cares enough to respond promptly. I have tried from the past 18 years to get correspondence from Sam’s corporate level with very little to no response. Guess Walmart cares more than Sam’s. Wonder why Sam’s is doing so poorly. Customer service is key to survival.

    As for Walmart, my only request is that they carry even larger packaged merchandise, above the slightly larger items they currently carry. I enjoy the Walmart Savings Catcher program but wish the program allowed more items to be eligible.

  2. I hate Wal-Mart and before couponing I hated that I NEEDED Wal-Mart for their low prices. But since I started couponing in January, I’ve only gone to Wal-Mart three times. With coupons I find weekly store specials at Dominick’s and Jewel to be even better than Wal-Mart’s ‘low prices’.

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