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    FEATURE: Wake-up Call: Compliments of the season

    Christmas at Meijer is a study in mass retailing done right.

    By David Diamond

    This issue of Progressive Grocer is full of information and praise about our newly crowned retailer of the year, Meijer. I wanted to add my two cents on the subject, but in a somewhat less formal way. That's because, besides being an industry consultant and Meijer watcher (full disclosure: Meijer is a client of mine), I'm also a Meijer shopper, if only once or twice a year.

    I live in New York City, a place which is very far, both geographically and psychically, from Meijer's home in the small towns and suburbs of the upper Midwest. But every Christmas my family and I dutifully report to Crystal Lake, Ill., the home of my wife's family -- and one of Meijer's stores. We generally spend about a week there, catching up with family and friends, and -- since it's right before Christmas -- doing a little shopping.

    But the shopping highlight of the trip, for my son and me, is at least one trip to Meijer. I generally volunteer to oversee the creation of Christmas dinner, as my mother-in-law is committed to a cooking-free retirement, so we make our menus, write up shopping lists, check them twice to make sure that we've accommodated the various needs of the visiting adults (gluten-free this, electrolyte-enhanced that) and kids (food in flavors and colors not found in nature), and my son and I duly march off to Meijer, ostensibly to buy groceries, though we actually end up buying a lot more, and most of that not in the grocery area.

    And this is where the magic of Meijer kicks in. Its seamless approach to the one-stop-shopping concept manages to lure us all over the store in a way that Target and even mighty Wal-Mart can't.

    First, we negotiate the fierce pre-holiday traffic to find ourselves a spot in the remote reaches of the parking lot. Once we get into the store, however, the pre-Christmas rush seems to fade away. The store's huge footprint; the large, accommodating staff; and, yes, the joyous holiday spirit, conspire to make this a pleasant experience.

    Our first assignment: groceries. We usually cook Christmas dinner for an extended family of 14, plus a variety of ancillary meals, so this is already a big task. But Meijer is up to the challenge. The produce is of high quality, the meats are acceptable to us snobs who usually hang out at Whole Foods and Dean & DeLuca, the grocery selection is complete and well-priced, and inevitably we stumble across two or three things that we never intended to buy, but just couldn't resist. The jumbo bag of red and green M&M's (reduced to $1.99!) was a big find one year; another year a five-pound summer sausage (you can't get that in New York) took the honors.

    Mission accomplished

    About midway through grocery shopping, the transformation begins to occur. My son is restless by this time and starts to cruise around the store. After a few minutes, it's no surprise when he returns holding a DVD he really wants (for only $9.99), followed by the news that there's a great video game available at half-price. Then he shows me the special coupons he's secured (I trained him well!), which give us $5 off any $20 item, or $10 off any $50 item.

    And since the-boy-who-has-everything now seems to be on a path to possess even more, I figure that I may as well make the most of this opportunity, so once we've finished up in the grocery area, we meander toward the video games. Fortunately the path from grocery to electronics leads through the boys' clothes department, so we strike a deal: Ted will get his new video games, but only if he stops and tries on a few pairs of pants. And while he's trying on the pants, I notice that they're reduced to $11.99 a pair, so I'm now ready to load up. And by the way, they also have some nice shirts that fit him. And since I now have a coupon for $10 off any $50 item, and Ted's winter coat is a bit snug -- why not get one of those, too? Within a matter of minutes, his winter wardrobe is complete.

    Before we get to the videos, however, I stop and get a few shirts for myself, partially because they're nice, partially because they're cheap, and partially because after too much time in snooty New York stores, I love any place where everything comes in a size to fit me (my phrase for my physique is "jumbo petit"), and my winter wardrobe is done, too.

    Finally, we get to the video games and DVDs, and are they cheap! It seems like a crime not to buy The Godfather when it's less than $10. So we end up with three stacks of DVDs: Ted's favorites, my favorites, and everyone else's favorites as last-minute "bonus" Christmas gifts.

    The last stop is the checkstand where -- despite the fact that our cart is literally overflowing, my son is still finding things he can't resist, the store is mobbed with shoppers, and the clerk is called upon to do everything from weighing produce to removing security tags from DVDs to folding pants -- we still have an experience that can only be characterized as quick, efficient, and (dare I say it?) pleasant. From there, we load up the car, and return home, exhausted and satisfied.

    So what have we accomplished? In a little over an hour we've bought enough food to feed a small army for a few days; we've dressed one child and one adult for the balance of the winter; we've provided enough new DVDs and games to assure a merry Christmas, regardless of the stack of educational toys procured by helpful but well-meaning relatives; and we've added a few additional Christmas gifts that are bound to please.

    And we haven't spent the $400 we intended, we've spent about $500, and we've spent it on products with pretty good margins for Meijer. Thus, we've become a case study ourselves in how the Meijer product mix, pricing strategy, and promotion plan work together to turn well-meaning grocery shoppers into consumers across a variety of categories and departments.

    We arrived at Meijer ready to buy the fixings for Christmas dinner, but we left having accomplished four things, and having done so in a way that leaves us ready to return again next year. I can think of no better reason to proclaim Meijer the retailer of the year.

    Congratulations, Meijer!

    By David Diamond
    • About David Diamond

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