retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Lots of reaction to yesterday’s commentary about Consumer Reports’ annual supermarket ratings, concluding that the nation’s best stores are, in order: Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, Publix, Fareway, Costco, Harris Teeter, Market Basket, Raley’s, Hy-Vee and Stater Bros.

I commented:

Last week I took issue with the Consumer Reports bagel evaluations, and this week I’m afraid that I have to suggest that at the very least, these ratings do not represent the best of US supermarket retailing. Some of the chains mentioned are, indeed, something special ... but while some of them would never make my list, there are enormous gaps in the list.

Where is Dorothy Lane Markets? Or Lunds/Byerly’s? Or Metropolitan Markets? Or any of HEB’s formats, especially Central Markets? Or Schnucks?

“Best” and “worst” may not be the best descriptive words for Consumer Reports” to use here - in part because my “best” may be completely different from someone else’s ... it all depends on what our priorities and life-stages are. It may even depend on the day of the week and the time of day.

MNB user Lorri Putnam responded:

There are several problems with this research.  Although 24,000 households nationwide were polled, this is a convenience sample – not a demographically and geographically balanced sample of randomly selected grocery shoppers.  Instead, it appears to be a survey of Consumer Reports subscribers, as the terms “subscribers” and “readers” are used in the summary – and people who subscribe to something are different from people who do not (even MNB subscribers…).  This is what got the Chicago Tribune in trouble with the famous “Dewey defeats Truman” headline, because the paper made the mistake of basing at least part of its prediction on a survey of a specific subset of voters – their own conservative subscribers.

Dorothy Lane Market is not listed because although they have excellent customer service, they only have three stores, and this small number will not register highly in a nationwide poll.  Don’t know why larger chains like HEB were not listed, unless few CR subscribers shop at HEB stores…

Another problem is that this appears to be a convenience sample, where shoppers with a strong point-of-view (a beef with a store) are more likely to respond than people without an agenda.  Who responds to surveys at the bottom of the restaurant receipt or emailed after a hotel stay?  Mostly those with exceptional experiences, either good or bad.

Finally, just because they polled thousands of respondents does not make a convenience sample a good survey.  Convenience sample are not representative and should not be extrapolated to the broader market, and large convenience samples do not add to the accuracy.

Another MNB user wrote:

How Meijer could rate higher than Giant Eagle is a puzzle to me.  I guess low prices is 2/3rds of the perception.  In my experience Meijer has Walmart like pricing along with loss leader weekly specials and double coupons. But long lines and out of stocks are almost as bad as Walmart.

MNB user David D’Arezzo wrote:

I always felt the Consumer Report survey was weak, in particular because most people are only comparing their store to the “the other store” in town.  The gap between Wegmans and say, Tops might be larger than Kroger and HEB?

A common issue in product research is where people struggle to articulate why, for example, they like one restaurant over another (price, convenience, location, value, type of food, ambiance, service, etc.).  Serious researchers use conjoint analysis (I know it sounds very impressive, but it’s really a simple research technique) to draw out preferences, and the importance of each variable to people.  I’m sure the CR people are smart, but this problem of ranking stores, when most people haven’t been in any of the great regional stores you mentioned,  is a problem.  And of course Kevin, they obviously didn’t rate shadows in the aisle (and we all know how important that is to you!) because that would have surely knocked Wegmans down a peg or two! (rim shot).

Not shadows in the aisle. Shadows on the product. Big difference. 🙂

Responding to a different story, one MNB user wrote:

I’m really surprised anyone even cares about Yammer at Supervalu.  Have you ever used it?  1) the application is years behind Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter.  2)  why would any employee at SV ever post any comments on Yammer knowing that senior leadership is watching it like hawks.  You can’t post anything anonymously.

In my opinion, social media can’t be forced on people.  Retailers & Suppliers can use these sites to better understand their consumers on a broader scale, but not their employees on an intimate scale.

Regarding new moves by Netflix to segregate its streaming and DVD customers, one MNB user wrote:

Are they trying to alienate their customers?  I think we could be looking at the beginning of the end for Netflix.  What a perfect time for someone new to come in and crush them.  Hello Blockbuster, move over and make room for Netflix in the obsolete bin!

I can tell you this, if Netflix makes it more difficult for me to manage my DVD's and Streaming queue, without huge improvements in the quality and quantity of available streaming choices, I will be looking to jump ship, and I have been a member since 2003.

KC's View: