Beyond the Core: Supermarket Service Needs Attention

Retail Feedback Group's Brian Numainville reflects on lessons from the Supermarket Experience Study
Photograph: Shutterstock

Food retailers can gain an edge by focusing on the most desirable attributes shoppers deem vital to an overall satisfying shopping experience.

Competition marches on for supermarket retailers. Whether from the vast array of online shopping providers or the continued expansion of stores across many different formats, there is no shortage of competitive pressure. With so many choices, it is important to see how supermarkets fare in the eyes of those who matter most—the shoppers. 

In our latest RFG Supermarket Experience Study, an enlightening glimpse at shoppers’ in-store perceptions, we found supermarkets continue to receive high marks in quality, cleanliness and variety. Scores for service factors, including associate friendliness, checkout speed and helpfulness were more moderate. Associate availability tied for the lowest score along with value for money spent. In total, we call all these items “core experience factors,” because they are central to the supermarket shopping experience. 

While supermarket retailers must stay strong in the core experience factors where they already lead, I’d like to take a moment to focus on some areas where shoppers tell us, generally speaking, that supermarkets are not faring as well—particularly service and value for money. 

Supermarkets Can Improve by Addressing Shortcomings

First, let’s examine service. The top-rated service element was staff friendliness (4.32 on a five-point scale), followed by checkout speed (4.28), staff helpfulness/knowledge (4.24) and staff availability (4.17). While most of these are moderate scores, all of them are important to the shopping experience. Our research finds that when a shopper rates these items a 4 or 5, that their overall satisfaction (OSAT) rises. However, when a shopper rates these a 1, 2 or 3, that their overall satisfaction plummets.

For instance, the lowest scoring attribute, staff availability, scores a 4.52 (on a five-point scale) if the shopper rates this attribute a 4 or 5, but only a 3.67 if the shopper rates it lower. So, if a store is registering mainly lower scores on staff availability, this is going to impact shoppers' overall satisfaction with the experience. And imagine if this is compounded by lower scores in other service areas. Clearly not a positive. 

Further, we have seen in prior years that supermarket overall satisfaction declined throughout the day. While this remains the case, a new and interesting finding emerged. For the first time, we measured overall satisfaction by daypart for Aldi and Walmart. Shoppers of both chains showed increasing satisfaction during the first two dayparts and peaked during the heaviest traffic period (3 to 7 p.m.). Supermarkets need to carefully assess this shortcoming, perhaps by strengthening service factors, which are limited at these retailers, to improve overall satisfaction during those times when it matters most. 

Value Still an Important Factor

Value for money spent, as noted earlier, was tied for the lowest scoring core experience factor, registering a score of 4.17.  Digging deeper, specific price attributes fared even worse, including everyday prices (4.01), meat/poultry prices (4.00) and produce prices (3.99). However, advertised sales items scored much higher (4.34) for supermarkets. This is a notable strength, as 73% of shoppers refer to one or more advertising/sales vehicles—traditional, social, mobile and/or digital—before or during the visit.

While digital circulars (30%) continue to grow, printed circulars remain popular (51%) and more so with boomers (62%) as compared with millennials (40%). However, digital coupons (33%) surpassed clipped coupons (29%) and are used across all age groups. 

Not every market is the same. Retailers must carefully assess each local market and remain attentive to the trends to ensure they are communicating value using the vehicles most relevant to their shoppers.

One thing is certain: Tried-and-true factors such as providing customer service and offering a good value continue to play a key role in the supermarket shopping experience. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon. 

Brian Numainville is a principal with the Retail Feedback Group. He can be reached at bn@retailfeedback.com.



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