Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert: 'Getting to know shoppers best way to build trust'

Trust remains at the heart of the relationship between grocers and shoppers, Lempert said Thursday during a webinar with research firm Brandspark International and Winsight Grocery Business.
Build Trust
Phil Lempert, founder of, Robert Levy, president of BrandSpark International and Heather Lalley, Editor-In-Chief, Winsight Grocery Business. / Photo courtesy: Winsight Grocery Business

Trust remains at the heart of the relationship between grocers and shoppers, Phil Lempert, founder of, said Thursday during a webinar with representatives of research firm Brandspark International and Winsight Grocery Business

The online forum was held to discuss the findings of the 5th-annual Brandspark-WGB report “How to Build Trust with Grocery Shoppers,” a survey of 10,082 shoppers conducted last October.

Industry experts at the webinar noted that shoppers were a lot more likely to jettison their buying habits than they were their favorite grocery store in 2022. Lempert was joined by Robert Levy, president of BrandSpark International and Heather Lalley, editor-in-chief of WGB

Levy noted in the webinar that the study also showed that understanding depth-of-trust is essential to the relationship, while price and quality are the two most important drivers of trust. And their loyalty to the store banner remained, according to Levy.“We saw 75% [of shoppers] changed their shopping habits. They were quicker to change their product choices than where they shopped.”

Asked for cases where grocers have successfully leveraged values and corporate responsibility to drive results, Lempert said Wegmans and Hy-Vee are working to understand the consumer and their own employees better than their competitors. "When you’ve got, in the case of Hy-Vee, 75,000 employees and it’s employee-owned retailer, they can transfer that kind of value, that kind of trust, to their shoppers every single day,” Lempert said. 

He added that during the pandemic, retailers were doing everything they could to engage with customers on trust, which included CEOs making appearances on TV and talking about essential workers and innovating with technology. “It’s getting more important by the day,” Lempert said. “For the past 10 years, pre-pandemic, we didn’t see a lot of activity, and then during the pandemic, the retailers really stepped up.”

He noted that in terms of innovation, Wegmans has shown their commitment to customer needs, particularly in helping them fight inflation, with their new shopping carts that keeps a running total of the dollars they’re spending as they make their way through the grocery store. “That really creates a lot of trust for people,” he said. “... So yes, technology has come a long way for a lot of these retailers, especially as we have this labor shortage taking place in grocery.”

Rather than move on to a different grocer, the 75% of shoppers who said they are changing their habits are focusing on buying lower price brands (62%), eating out less (56%), cutting out pricier products (55%) and buying store brands (52%), among others. 

In the area of private-label brands, even deep-discount grocers like Dollar Tree and Dollar General are increasing their commitment to private-label offerings, according to Lalley. “Dollar Tree said they’re opening a test kitchen, specifically to iterate some of these private brands, so it’s really expanding and a way to differentiate themselves from the competition,” she said.

Lempert said getting to know shoppers is key to creating loyalty in a market that provides more options than ever. “If you want to build trust, you’ve got to understand your shopper,” he said, noting his admiration for the late Morty Wolfson, who built the nation’s largest ShopRite in Lincoln Park, New Jersey, with his son Larri Wolfson. 

“This store is a good 90,000 square feet, and he would stand by the front door and talk to shoppers about what they wanted and what they didn’t like, and that’s where he was every time you went to the store,” Lempert said. “Now Larry does the very same thing, and they’re very successful. It’s one of the most successful ShopRites that exists, and it’s because they understand their shopper.” 



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