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    Supermarket Losing Ground as Destination for Shoppers: Study

    NEW YORK - The supermarket's pool of dedicated shoppers is shrinking, and to survive, supermarkets need to focus on ways they can set themselves apart beyond just offering low prices, according to consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, based here.

    NEW YORK - The supermarket's pool of dedicated shoppers is shrinking, and to survive, supermarkets need to focus on ways they can set themselves apart beyond just offering low prices, according to consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, based here.

    In a recent survey of more than 1,000 consumers, WSLSR analysts uncovered what they consider signs that a substantial number of consumers no longer consider going to the supermarket a "shopping trip" as they do going to other retail outlets such as department stores. The survey came from the report, "WSL Strategic Retail How America Shops."
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    When WSLSR asked 1,503 consumers to select places where they shop from a list of stores, 79 percent selected the supermarket as a place they had shopped in the past three months.

    However, when prompted with the more specific question, "Where did you buy groceries?" another 14 percent recalled that they had shopped in a supermarket during the period. That flags a perception problem for supermarkets, WSLSR principal Candace Corlett told Progressive Grocer.

    "The findings are symbolic that for many people, the supermarket is not on their radar," said Corlett. "Today food is seen as fuel, and fast food is as acceptable as a home-cooked dinner for many consumers."

    The WSLSR survey data also suggested that the current population of regular supermarket shoppers skews significantly toward older, upper-income consumers. A lower percentage of African-American shoppers apparently shop at supermarkets compared to other retail channels, the data indicated. Also, a growing number of shoppers are buying groceries at alternative outlets, such as supercenters and dollar stores.

    Supermarkets that think more creatively may be able to counter these trends, Corlett said. Successful grocers have responded, for example, by focusing more on consumers that are not Wal-Mart's primary shoppers--specifically, upper-middle income and upper-income consumers, she said.

    "HEB's Central Market, Wegmans, Kowalski's, and Whole Foods have made a conscious choice to go after the shopper who isn't a Wal-Mart shopper, and they've done an excellent job," said Corlett. Their tactics include offering "terrific surroundings with lots of higher-margin items to buy, while at the same time keeping grocery-competitive pricing." In addition, they make shopping feel "like a holiday all year round," Corlett said.
    -- Jenny McTaggart

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