If people fulfilled their java urges the same way they carefully shopped for groceries, they would visit five to seven various chain coffee shops regularly — for a blend of different categories.
In fact, it turns out that grocery categories such as dessert toppings, motor oil, candles and refrigerated ethnic foods were some of the leading products that lure customers to separate stores.
In the first test of detailed consumer-buying habits by categories at more than one chain store selling groceries, a team of business school researchers led by Washington University in St. Louis found that shoppers weren’t monogamist or bigamist but rather polygamist in their choice of outlets.
The vast majority — a whopping 83 percent — regularly visited between four and nine chain stores within a year’s time to purchase groceries. Of 1,321 households studied among this rich dataset, only 12 stayed loyal to just one store. More than half, at 51.1 percent, went to the average of five to seven different stores. Eighty-eight households, or six of every 100, went to 10 or more.
So much for store loyalty
Using tracked data from a vendor utilizing a swipe card akin to a loyalty card, the researchers parsed more than $1 million worth of shopping transactions over 53 weeks involving 248 types of products sold at 14 retail chain stores in a large metropolitan market. The study, “Polygamous Store Loyalties: An Empirical Investigation,” was published last month in the Journal of Retailing.
What shoppers want in breadth
In the study, researchers found the top 10 categories of products that change a store’s attractiveness over its competitors, based on the available breadth of the brand assortment.
- Motor oil
- Refrigerated dips
- Refrigerated baked goods
- Dry beans/vegetables
- Moist towelette
- Hairspray / spritz
- Hair accessories
- Automobile fluids/antifreeze
“Store loyalty was pretty much a given in grocery retail,” said senior author Seethu Seetharaman, director of the Center of Customer Analytics and Big Data and the W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing at Olin Business School. “When people do their shopping, it’s the store close to where they live — location, location, location, like the real-estate mantra.
“Then there is a group of choosy consumers who stop at many stores, shopping for bargains or certain brands or products,” he said. “They’ve been called ‘cherry pickers.’ ” Often, those folks were associated with coupon shoppers.
“That made us do a deeper dive, and we found that people aren’t as store loyal as we thought,” Seetharaman said. “Clearly, people are polygamous. The majority of people are shopping at six grocery stores.”
Consumers tend to shop multiple stores for multiple reasons. In fact, the data showed little loyalty to a single store or handful of stores, but more so to types of products found in a store. Consumers shopped various stories for specific product categories: frozen treats at one grocer, meat and poultry at another, and so on. The researchers called this “intrinsic store-category attractiveness.”
What shoppers want in pricing
Here are the top 10 categories of products that change a store’s attractiveness over its competitors, based on the degree of price consistency (or lack of price variability) over time.
- Dessert toppings
- Refrigerated eggroll / wonton /tortilla wrap
- Pickles / relish / olives
- Peanut butter
- Toothbrush / dental accessories
- Toilet tissue
- Cat litter / dog supplies
- Refrigerated meat / poultry products
- Snack bars / granola bars
- Spaghetti / Italian sauce
“It’s very diffuse,” Seetharaman said of consumers’ purchases from a larger-than-expected list of stores. “Only 40 percent of their basket is coming from their ‘favorite’ store.”
Companies in the grocery, household item and healthy / beauty realm could learn from such a category-intensive study, Seetharaman said. “This gives you a good sense of what you are winning, and how you are winning. But there’s no silver bullet.”
“Will it be a surprise?” Seetharaman asked. “Yes, it will be a surprise,” he said. “The traditional wisdom is: Walmart is an aggressive, everyday-low-price price retailer and Target is the assortment retailer. So let’s say both mass merchandisers … each of them has a certain strategic positioning and therefore thought they attract a certain type of consumer.
“We are upending that wisdom a little bit here: No matter what kind of strategic positioning you have carved out, consumers have a mind of their own. They are choosing to do different things in different categories. And businesses should wise up to this. Even your core customer is buying categories at other shops.”