Consumer Reports subscribers recently rated Wegmans, and Trader Joe’s, among 52 of the nation’s major grocery stores. But the survey also revealed that even some of the high-rated chains gave plenty of shoppers something to complain about.
One-third of those surveyed said they had given the heave-ho to a nearby grocery store. Forty-three percent of them changed their grocer in search of lower prices; about 25 percent cited poor selection, long lines, or lousy food; 17 percent blamed employee rudeness; 14 percent the crowds.
Of the more than 24,000 readers who took the survey, more than half had at least one complaint about their current store; almost a third cited two or more.
The biggest gripe overall: Not enough open checkouts, followed by congested or cluttered aisles, and advertised specials that were out of stock. Other irritants included inept bagging, missing prices, and scanner overcharges.
No chains tried their customers’ patience more than Walmart Supercenter, Pathmark (Northeast), and Pick ’n Save (Wisconsin), where roughly three-fourths of shoppers had one or more problems. Shoppers who frequented Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer and the chain with the most shoppers in our survey, were most likely to be miffed about the lack of open checkouts, out-of-stock regular items, indifferent employees, spotty pricing, and confusing store layout.
Fortunately, most consumers have several shopping choices, and some supermarkets gave customers much of what they want. National grocers Costco and Trader Joe’s, along with Wegmans, offer quality meat and produce, a clean shopping environment, and very good or exceptional prices.
All, with the exception of Costco, also earned the highest possible marks for service, defined as employee courtesy and checkout speed. Service is minimal at warehouse clubs such as Costco, and lengthy lines are a trade-off for day-in, day-out deals.
Avoid store traps
Supermarkets are giant selling machines in which traffic patterns, product placement displays, and smells encourage shoppers to open their wallets. Consumer Reports offers this advice to resist both hard and soft sells:
Sneaky sales signs.
The sign reads “5 for $5,” the implication being you need to purchase the entire amount to get the discount. But rarely are you required to do so.
Shop against the grain.
Most stores have their main entrance on the right side, and their customers tend to shop counterclockwise. When researchers compared those shoppers with people who went through a left entrance and shopped clockwise, they found the clockwise folks spent $2 less per trip, on average.
Beware of “bumpouts,” displays and shelves that curve or jut out. They catch the eye and make merchandise prominent. When you reach the end of an aisle, don’t assume the merchandise is always on sale.
Look high and low.
Prime selling space includes the middle or eye-level shelving. Vendors sometimes pay retailers hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in slotting fees to take on new products or display products prominently. Check whether similar products on top or bottom shelves are less expensive.
Front loading the veggies and fruits.
The produce department is usually near the entrance, and there’s a savvy strategy behind the location. In addition to imparting the message that “this is a fresh, healthy place,” that placement gives shoppers license to buy cake and ice cream as a reward for picking up broccoli or apples.
Be wary of the 9s.
Do not be fooled if the price ends in 9. It’s a practice known as charm pricing. Some researchers believe that shoppers see a jar of peanuts priced at $6.99 as $6 rather than $7, making it seem cheaper.