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We may say that we’re loyal to our favorite grocery store. But we sure don’t act that way. A new survey finds that while most of us believe we’re loyal shoppers, very few of us actually are.

So is that because we’re fickle – or because stores just haven’t earned our loyalty?

In “Next Generation Loyalty: Get It Right in Food Retail”, the Food Marketing Institute takes a look at consumers’ grocery shopping habits, and just how much we actually like our favorite grocery stores.

Their survey finds that 80% of shoppers call themselves loyal to their primary grocery store, and more than three-quarters spend more than half of their household grocery budget at a single store. But only 19% say they shop at only one store in a week, and only 7% of shoppers spend 90% of their grocery budget at their primary store. Instead, 8 in 10 shoppers say they typically divide their weekly grocery shopping among two or more retailers.

What explains that disconnect? How can we consider ourselves loyal – when we’re really not?

“Shoppers believe they are loyal and have a desire to be loyal but they do not behave in a loyal way because they do not have all of their needs satisfied by their primary grocery store,” the FMI report states.

Even your favorite grocery store, then, apparently isn’t perfect.

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When asked why they choose to shop at a particular store, survey respondents said the most important store attributes include prices, product selection, promotions, cleanliness, customer service and speedy checkout. Shoppers “expect attractive promotions, the right product assortments and excellent shopping experiences all the time and every time,” the report reads.

But few stores can consistently provide all of that. Nearly two-thirds of shoppers said they end up going to multiple stores in order to find the products they want, or to pay lower prices for the items on their list.

Even shoppers who do frequent a particular store aren’t necessarily loyal – they may be doing it out of inertia. “Repeat visits are not loyalty,” the report notes. Sometimes repeat customers are “more likely acting out of time and effort-saving habit than any kind of personalized relationship”.

One might think a good loyalty program would be key to retaining good, loyal customers. But it’s not that simple. Only half of shoppers said loyalty programs were important factors in deciding where to shop. They’re particularly unimpressed with “traditional two-tier price discount loyalty programs”, where the only benefit is getting advertised discounts while those poor souls without a loyalty card have to pay full price. Instead, shoppers say they prefer more innovative programs with personalized discounts – and the majority say they’re not getting them.

Overall, the most successful retailers are meeting their customers’ needs with or without a loyalty program. Shoppers gave their favorite stores high marks, regardless of whether those retailers had a loyalty program at all.

“This goes to the heart of the topic of loyalty,” the report concludes. “Loyalty is not a card or a program or an initiative; loyalty has to be earned by consistently satisfying the needs of shoppers better than the competition.”

And if your favorite stores don’t, then more of us may do more of our shopping – somewhere else.

Photo by Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos

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