SHOPPER REPORT DECEMBER 2001

Job & Money Worries Loom Large

Current Concerns

Stores Worth Loving

The Target Buzz

The Ten Best Loved Store Categories

The Importance of Being Clean


JOB & MONEY WORRIES HOVER
The seasonal holiday cup is half full of cheer and half empty of money. Shoppers are more concerned about layoffs and high prices than about anthrax or war.

Layoffs present and potential, among friends, family and neighbors, are worrying 50 percent of our shoppers. Budget problems are troubling businesses, government and consumers at the same time. War-related worries are less intense. Progress on the war front, coupled with indulgence in comfort foods and holiday celebrations, have made consumers feel easier about war and terrorism than they did a month back.

Deep discounts and triple coupons are connecting with concerns about high prices, jobs, and money. Although actual price tags on many items are lower than they were a year ago, consumers are shopping at Wal-Mart et al because they feel that regular prices at most stores are higher than they want to pay. Promotional pricing and interest-free financing bring prices into line with what shoppers find motivating.

Shoppers are not saying that terrorism and the threats to peace and safety aren't important, but they are saying that "the world is a mess" and that many of the problems they are facing seem interrelated. "These days, my primary concern is staying employed, hanging on to my house, and keeping my car running. Beyond that, I'm also concerned about loss of privacy, backlash against minorities of various sorts, and availability and affordability of medical care."

Concerns about layoffs, recession, the stock market and the job market are feeding the concern about high prices and driving shoppers toward deep discounts and deals. Concerns about bio-terrorism, anthrax and drug availability are feeding concern about drug prices - even among those with insurance plans that "cover drugs less as co-pays keep going up."

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CURRENT CONCERNS
(All percents based on 273 respondents.)

Areas of concern: Very Concerned Total Concerned
Layoffs 38% 50%
High prices 38% 48%
Drug prices 35% 57%
Bio-terrorism 35% 50%
War 33% 50%
Water safety 33% 45%
Bomb terrorism 28% 35%
Recession 25% 45%
Stock market 25% 43%
Loss of freedom 25% 43%
Food safety 25% 33%
Air Quality 23% 33%
Loss of rights 20% 38%
Job market 20% 35%
Drug availability 18% 36%
Mail safety 18% 30%
Fear of flying 15% 35%
Anthrax 15% 30%
Store closing 15% 20%
Smallpox 13% 30%
Fear of travel 10% 15%
Shortages 8% 18%

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STORES WORTH LOVING
In spite of the financial troubles facing the nation's retailers, some of our retail readers will be pleased to know that more than 60% of the shoppers we surveyed readily named one or more stores that they love. They will be especially happy to know that by a 7:6 ratio, more shoppers named more stores that they love than name brands that they love, suggesting that people relationships continue to count even more than prices, performance, and packages.

Retailers build their love-equity with their consumers whenever they do something to make them feel warm and fuzzy. Bargain perceptions go a long way, but so do friendly greetings, good management, hospitality, and interesting merchandise.

Ten years ago, most of the shoppers we asked about stores they loved responded with the name of a supermarket. Today, even if we include specialty food stores like Trader Joe's and Fresh Fields, more shoppers responded with a name of a mass marketer. Ranking national names by love mentions puts Target on top, with Wal-Mart at a very close second, and Kohl's at a not-so-distant third, followed closely by Home Depot, Kmart and Aldi. Neither Sears nor JCPenney made it to the top 25! Regional supermarkets like Publix, Wegman's, ShopRite and Ukrops appeared on many love lists as well.

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THE TARGET BUZZ
Target's heading this list is amazing considering how much larger Wal-Mart is in number of stores and shoppers served. But many respondents put both stores on the love lists.

  • Those who stopped to explain what they meant by loving Target mentioned interesting merchandise and pleasant shopping as well as good prices.
  • Those mentioning Wal-Mart as a loved store mentioned the combination of friendly people and great prices.

We didn't ask for negatives on our holiday season questionnaire, but some of the respondents who listed Target as their love store volunteered comparisons that were almost universally unflattering to Wal-Mart. "Target outshines both Wal-Mart and Kmart in cleanliness, neatness, customer service, quality of housewares and overall a nicer shopping experience. I find the management of my local Wal-Mart to be very shabby, especially since they closed the regular one and opened the superstore. Sometimes it's downright disgusting."
Target's love-buzz is loud enough that one of our respondents named it the store she expects to love when it opens in her area. Another wrote: "Our Wal-Mart has awful customer service. We go there because the prices are better than Kmart's and the Kmart service is even worse. Target is coming to our area and they will give them some competition to clean up their act!"

Many of those who named Wal-Mart and/or Target named two or more stores as love objects. More than 1/4 of those who named Wal-Mart a favorite also named Target, but the second store for both Wal-Mart and Target was more likely to be a supermarket or clothing store such as Victoria Secret or Kohl's.

For many respondents, not loving any store was based on having been betrayed or let down too often, encountering what many see as poor management, or living in a rural area that doesn't have any competition.

MANAGEMENT/LOVE CONNECTION
The connection between loving (or liking) stores and perceiving them to be well managed is an interesting one that we haven't previously explored or seen explored. A shopper that listed Home Depot and Target as stores she loved explained that she considered them to be "well managed stores. They have:

  • store personnel that are knowledgeable of merchandise and its location and willing to help customers
  • uncluttered aisles that are neat and clean inside and out
  • plenty of open check out lines during peak times
  • merchandise that is displayed in an orderly way."
    "I used to love but now dislike my "new and improved" grocery store, Publix, because the aisles are overcrowded with merchandise and there is still more merchandise at the ends where moving a cart along is difficult. They may be making more money but I don't think they are managing the store as well as they did when it was smaller".

"I hardly love my supermarkets because management never seems to know what is selling and what is not. As a result of this they are always out of popular items and long on the 'non-movers.' Scanners track sales and inventory but they don't replace good managers."

"I stopped going to Eckerd's because there was no management. The clerks were too busy talking to each other to answer questions and knew absolutely nothing about the merchandise on display."

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TEN BEST LOVED STORE-TYPES (BY CATEGORY)

  1. Mass market
  2. Supermarket
  3. Department stores (including Sears and JCPenney)
  4. Home and home furnishings (Home Depot, Lowes, Crate and Barrel)
  5. Specialty food stores (Fresh Fields, Wild Oats, Trader Joe's)
  6. Specialty clothing stores (Kohl, Gap, Express, Victoria Secret)
  7. Dollar bargain stores
  8. Drug stores
  9. Club stores
  10. Book stores

Runner up categories include thrift stores (such as Goodwill), toy stores, shoe stores, and card stores.

The fact that mass markets outrank supermarkets on this list reflects the fact that many mass markets now include supermarkets within their walls.

The ranking also reflects today's ideas about provisioning and the stores that today's shoppers are depending on to meet their basic needs. Since food is available almost everywhere in the United States, today's consumers are not dependent on supermarkets for food.

Finally, many shoppers find the mass discounters easier to shop than the supermarkets. They can shop less defensively and with more trust that they will get good value whether or not they shop carefully. Many shoppers find their supermarkets to be tricky and deceptive in their merchandising. The BOGO (Buy One, Get One) example was quite clear: Many shoppers distinguished between "honest" BOGOs where the regular price was stated and not inflated and exaggerated BOGOs in which the savings claim and/or the price for two was higher than the store ever charged for one.

BEST-LOVED PROMOTIONS
In keeping with the promotional spirit of the holiday season, we asked shoppers to tell us about their favorite promotions. Almost 50 percent of our respondents shared favorites in one or more categories. Our interpretation of the responses suggests that food stores and their suppliers would get a higher rate of return on their promotion dollars by putting them into sampling than they are getting from double and triple coupons, BOGOs and other discounts.

In the food and supermarket category:

  1. Triple Coupons headed the top-of-mind favorite list.
  2. BOGOs came in second. Many consumers differentiate between real and fake, dishonest or mark-up BOGOs in which the BOGO price is higher than what they consider a regular or prevailing price. Consumers describe regular price BOGOs.
  3. Free and almost-free turkeys came in a close third.
  4. Tastings and samplings ranked fourth and were noted with much pleasure and enthusiasm by many who cited them, e.g., "I love it when they have sample foods scattered throughout the store."
  5. Frequent shopper card discounts were mentioned without much excitement.
  6. Community-minded promotions supporting local schools or charities were considered praiseworthy. "I think it's great that a percent of my purchases goes to a school of my choice."

Additional food and supermarkets promotions that were cited with enthusiasm:

  • Cooking classes at the store
  • Percent off total purchase
  • $ Menu at McDonald's - also their monsters, movie tie-ins and 49 cent specials
  • Acceptance of expired coupons at Dominick's
  • Carnation Cocoa mixes going on sale at back-to-school stock up time
  • Self check-out at Kroger
  • Doughboy points on Pillsbury Products
  • Free fifth gallon of milk at Bilo
  • Free products from Giant Food

Several respondents noted old promotions with wistful halos:
"I used to love the dish and glassware promotions - haven't seen one in a long time."
"Safeway had a Dove van with free ice cream bars outside the store about 8 years ago. I keep hoping it will happen again some day."

Other retail promotion favorites:

  • Kohl's distributes free store cash/merchandise cards to promote new store openings and a $10 gift card for spending $25
  • Macy's/Boscov's Thanksgiving parade
  • Cosmetic free gifts with purchase
  • Free products at Office Max and Comp USA
  • When Marshall Field bought Dayton's, they got a lot of goodwill by giving charge customers a 15% discount period and a free box of candy
  • Taking extra percent of items already on sale
  • Senior discounts on specified days
  • Wal-Mart's August white sales
  • Walgreen's rebate book
  • Kmart's Blue Light Specials

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THE IMPORTANCE OF CLEAN
We asked shoppers about the best products of 2001 and found that the share-of-mind was taken up by new ways to clean and new drinks to drink. The cleaning category had more write-ins than any other - with P&G's Swiffer the big brand winner and wipes the category winner.

Consumers spelled Swiffer in many ways (Swifter, Swisher, and Swiffi) but seem to like it in all spellings. Wipes got spelled correctly in a variety of brands including Mr. Clean Wipes, Clorox Cleaning Wipes, bathroom cleaning wipes, and even Oil of Olay Face Cleaning Wipes!

CAPTURING THE HOLIDAY MOOD
"This is a time when no one is going to feel particularly in control, including financially. I'm just going to worry about month- to- month expenses and hope the long term outlook improves and that we will get back on track. The unknown is the scariest thing, so to me, using the familiar or watching favorite TV shows that make you feel good or playing home games with the family are probably some of the best coping and security things we can do. And praying, anywhere, everywhere and anytime, helps immensely. If you need to cry or talk do it, and don't feel too embarrassed - we're all in this together of course - do what you can do to help. The hardest part is figuring out what that is."

BEST WISHES FOR PEACE, PROSPERITY,
HAPPY HOLIDAYS,
AND A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR.
© 2001The Consumer Network, Inc., PO Box 42753, Philadelphia, PA 19101. 215/235-2400. Email comments to ShopperReport@cs.com or to Mona@MonaDoyle.com.

 

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