News Feature | August 13, 2013

When It Comes To Customer Satisfaction, No One Trumps Trader Joe's

Sam Lewis

By Sam Lewis, associate editor
Follow Me On Twitter @SamIAmOnFood

Trader Joe's Store Front At Easton

Market Force study reveals the where and why of American grocery shopping

Recently, Market Force conducted a study involving 6,600 North American consumers that revealed where participants preferred to shop for groceries and the reasons why they do. When asked about the satisfaction with their most recent grocery shopping experience and the likelihood of referring that grocer to others — called “the customer delight index” — a lot of names you expected to be at the top were there. Included in these were Publix, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Aldi. Rounding out the top five was Trader Joe’s, at number one.

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as those who have had the Trader Joe’s shopping experience realize the biggest problem might be dealing with the hordes of other shoppers in the store. Operating nearly 400 locations, Trader Joe’s has a neighborhood-store feel with an enormous focus of its operations being on helping the customer and its always fresh inventory of products.

A convenient location is one of the biggest factors consumers consider when choosing their preferred grocer — ranking higher than low prices at number two, sales and promotions at number three, and merchandise variety and availability at number four. Los Angeles-based Ralph’s — of the Kroger brand — was the winner regarding convenient locations, and Aldi was the clear winner in low prices. Winn Dixie, based in Jacksonville, FL, was the consumer favorite in terms of sales and promotions. As far as merchandise variety and availability goes, Meijer led the pack.

As nice as it is to be on top in these categories, it doesn’t always help grocery chains become more profitable. Operations-based characteristics, like fast check-outs, inviting atmosphere, and courteous staff are often what distinguish one grocer from another, and are what allow one grocery brand to outscore another. “With most consumers satisfied with their grocery-shopping experiences, it makes for a very competitive playing field for grocers looking to distinguish themselves from the masses,” said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. “We start to see the greatest opportunities for differentiation in operations-related attributes such as fast check-outs, gracious staff, and atmosphere.”   

The study examined these operational attributes and found that Trader Joe’s and Publix both were at the top of these traits. Trader Joe’s was the favorite for inviting atmosphere and fast check-out, while Publix was the consumers’ favorite for friendly staff and cleanliness. Hy-Vee and H-E-B stores also achieved positive marks for cleanliness, courteous staff, and atmosphere.

However, no other grocery chain dominated quite like Whole Foods in terms of perception of high quality, healthy, natural product selection. Despite Whole Foods not winning any of the previously mentioned categories — it was in the top 10 in all of them — it was the best in the following: high-quality meat, high-quality produce, natural and organic products, nutritional information, and sustainable/green practices. And, yes, Trader Joe’s found its way into the top in these categories also, landing in the top three of most of them.

While many grocers can claim one or two particular services that no competitor can beat — Walmart, for instance, will match any grocery chain’s low price and was ranked number one in one-stop shopping — oftentimes, that stake comes with a sacrifice. In the case of Walmart, customer satisfaction was deemed last by the customer delight index. With Trader Joe’s being in the top five of virtually every category, it’s easy to see why it is the number one grocer in the eyes of American grocery shoppers.