Are grocery shoppers turning to warehouse clubs?

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on August 22, 2002

Consumers still do their main shopping at supermarkets but feel they save money and get better value, and are tempted to buy more, at warehouse club stores and supercentres, according to a survey by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and SupermarketGuru.

The survey revealed that shoppers in the US expect to save money by shopping at warehouse clubs. Yet they also admitted that they often spend more than they planned to by making impulsive purchases.

Supermarket Guru's Philip Lempert says that the results of the firm's consumer panel suggest that, although shoppers believe they can get a better deal at a warehouse club store, it is not translating into a vast consumer movement in that direction. Nonetheless, as consumer shopping habits change, the warehouse club trip may become a more routine part of consumers' shopping venues in the future.

More shopping venues
According FMI director of research Janice Jones, "Consumers are shopping differently in 2002 than in the past. They are willing to shop in more types of stores and to take the time to seek out value. Supermarket operators cannot assume a weekly stock-up from every shopper as they did years ago."

According to the survey, only 39% of shoppers say they do a stock-up trip at least every week. Some 60% are making fill-in trips of ten or fewer items at least weekly.

Warehouse club threat
The survey shows that although shoppers think they can get better prices elsewhere, the supermarket is still where people buy most of their food and non-food items. But this apparent perception that supermarkets provide less value may continue to increase the competition from warehouse club stores, natural food stores, discount stores and others.

However, while there's a definite perceived value among warehouse club shoppers, 37% of all shoppers say they use a warehouse club store less than once a month, and 31% say they never use one. Some 36% percent say they shop at stores other than supermarkets for lower prices, and 20% say they shop at a warehouse club monthly.

A perishable preference
According to the survey results, consumers prefer to purchase perishable foods from supermarkets, with 81% percent saying they shop at supermarkets for vegetables and fresh meats (compared with only 6% at a supercentre and 3% at a warehouse club store). However, the supermarkets may lose some of their market share when shoppers want non-food items like detergent and paper products. Nearly a quarter (23%) buy those items at a supercentre, 15% at a warehouse club store, and 14% at a discount store - compared with 42% at a supermarket.

Lempert explains, "The average shopper shops at 2.2 stores each week to obtain all their items, and the fact that they are willing to go to different stores to purchase various items suggests that supermarkets are missing an opportunity to capture more consumer dollars by delivering and communicating a greater value and selection."

Consumer motivation
When asked to explain why they shop at supermarkets, respondents said "planned purchases", "many choices" and "it's the routine".

When asked to explain why they shop at warehouse club stores they said "great value", "good bargains" and "impulsive purchases".

Shoppers described supercentres as having "many choices", "good bargains" and "great value".

The bottom line, according to both FMI and SupermarketGuru, is that supermarkets need to create an air of excitement in the store to combat the misperception of the store being 'routine'. They say retailers should also take note of the finding that consumers believe they can find better prices elsewhere, and be careful not to assume that shoppers will automatically buy higher priced non-food items out of convenience.

The survey, conducted via the SupermarketGuru web site, included responses from 1,375 US shoppers, spread across every state. Of all respondents, 83% percent said they mainly shop at supermarkets, while 11% mainly shop at supercentres (like K-Mart or Super Wal-Mart), and only 3% mainly shop at warehouse club stores (such as Sam's or Costco).

For more information:
·  Visit FMI's web site at
·  Visit SupermarketGuru at