Monday, January 10, 2011

Shopping Right

(Editor's Note: Industry leaders are meeting this week at the National Retail Federation annual convention in New York City, a conference I attended for more than 30 years. Though predominantly a department store and specialty store group of executives, attendees also come from supermarkets, drug stores, home centers and non store retailers such as mail order and Internet companies. For old times' sake, here’s an abridged example of what I used to do for 32 years, an analysis of the entry of a new store, in this case a supermarket, to a market.)

The opening of a new 78,000 sq. ft. ShopRite in downtown White Plains last week provides a textbook example of the dilemma supermarket operators have faced—who, exactly, is their competition? Is it merely other dedicated food stores, or do Wal-Mart and Target qualify as more than just nuisances poaching sales from periphery customers?

Across the country, Wal-Mart and Target superstores (units that combine full-line grocery stores with full-line discount stores) are competition, for sure. But here in White Plains, Wal-Mart and Target have limited food departments. Yet, to ignore them—as both ShopRite and the older Stop & Shop have seemingly done—means the supermarkets are losing sales opportunities they can ill-afford to give away.

Grocery retailing is a business of pennies. The average supermarket, according to the Food Marketing Institute, the industry association, turned a profit of just 1.22 cents for every dollar of sales in 2009. The business model is built on volume, achieved by bringing the customer back as often as possible to fill up shopping carts as high as possible. In 2009, The FMI says the average customer visited a supermarket 2.1 times per week, spending an average $29.24 per transaction.

Over the last 30 years Wal-Mart grew faster and bigger than any other store because it geared its prices and assortments to the type of staple merchandise consumers needed and bought every day—paper goods, health and beauty aids, candy, stationery, and consumables. The result—shoppers visited Wal-Mart as often as they frequented supermarkets. Good news for Wal-Mart. Bad news for supermarkets, because sales of the items grocers lost to Wal-Mart came from products that generally had higher margins than regular foodstuffs.

To attract customers, ShopRite and Stop & Shop have vastly more product lines in packaged food areas than either of the discounters. Plus, they have specialty departments such as deli, bakery, prepared foods and extensive produce, meat, frozen and refrigerated selections. But Wal-Mart and Target are sizing up their everyday food assortments, at sharper prices. A market basket of 21 national brands stocked by all four stores revealed the following: Wal-Mart and Target came in virtually the same, $72.35 for Wal-Mart, $73.13 for Target. Stop & Shop priced out at $87.17, while the new kid on the block, ShopRite, checked out at $89.80 (all prices included in the January 6 survey were regular prices, not sales prices).

A penny here, a penny there doesn’t sound like much, but $14 to $16 is a big difference. A ShopRite executive said the company used its Westchester zone to set prices. But White Plains is different than most other locations. For one, there’s the cost of parking at the City Center (which Target customers also have to pay; Wal-Mart issues parking vouchers at its garage. Stop & Shop parking is free). Second, unlike most ShopRite locations, competitors are cheek to jowl in White Plains—Target is two floors below, Wal-Mart across the street, Stop & Shop a few blocks away.

It is apparent ShopRite set its prices against other supermarkets, giving little thought to non-traditional competitors.

If Wal-Mart or Target siphons off any store visits and purchases from ShopRite it will find it harder to turn a profit. And that would be unfortunate for White Plains residents. Just a few years ago, despite being a mecca of retailing in the county, the city had no supermarkets. Now it has the two traditional grocers, a specialty format (Whole Foods Market), along with Wal-Mart and Target. To maintain those shopping options, ShopRite and Stop & Shop must sharpen their pencils on brand name goods, while fattening their margins on private label products and specialty food departments where Wal-Mart and Target cannot compete.

Regular Price Comparisons January 6, 2011
Product Wal-Mart Target ShopRite Stop & Shop
Jif Creamy PB 18 oz. $2.22 $2.24 $2.99 $2.99
Coca-Cola 2 liter 1.64 1.79 1.79 1.89
Tropicana OJ w/Calcium 59 oz. 3.18 3.19 3.99 3.79
Edy’s Ice Cream 1.5 qt. 3.98 3.54 4.49 4.99
Original Cheerios 18 oz. 3.50 3.54 4.99 4.69
Cambell’s Healthy Request Tomato Soup 1.32 1.27 1.89 1.50
Fiber 1 bars 10-pack 4.50 3.99 5.99 4.99
Thomas’ Orignal English Muffins 6-pack 2.07 2.54 3.69 3.69
Tide 150 oz. 19.97 19.99 23.99 19.99
Goya Black Beans 15.05 oz. 0.92 1.09 0.99 0.89
Ziploc Sandwich Bags, 120 count 2.67 2.69 3.49 3.99
Classic Lays Potato Chips, 11 oz. 3.78 3.59 3.99 3.99
Domino Sugar, 5 lbs. 3.64 3.64 3.99 3.99
Select Harvest Italian Wedding Soup 1.50 1.52 2.50 2.50
Special K, 12 oz. 2.92 2.94 2.77 3 .99
Entemann’s Pound Cake 3.32 3.29 4.29 4.39
Cool Whip, 8 oz. 1.48 0.99 2.29 2.19
Gatorade, 32 oz. 1.00 1.02 1.00 1.25
Lean Cuisine Cheese Ravioli 1.98 1.99 2.00 3.49
Folgers Classic Roast, 11.3 oz. 3.98 5.49 4.29 3.99
Cheez-It, 13.7 oz. 2.78 2.79 4.39 3.99
TOTAL 21 Items 1/6/11 $72.35 $73.13 $89.80 $87.17