What makes consumers so loyal to Publix, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s and H-E-B?

Photo: Wegmans
May 11, 2017

Americans love Publix and Wegmans best. The two chains came out tied for the top spot in a consumer survey of more than 12,700 shoppers by Market Force Information.

This marks the second straight year that Wegmans was listed as number one. It nudged Trader Joe’s out of the top spot last year. Trader Joe’s was ranked a close second in this year’s survey followed by H-E-B.

Publix, the largest employee-owned company in the U.S., earned its customer loyalty ranking (77 percent on Market Force’s Index) on the strength of its service and easy-to-find product selection. It also received the highest marks for cleanest stores and fastest checkouts.

Wegmans, a family-owned chain founded in 1916, is also known for customer service. The supermarket chain was ranked highest for its specialty departments and was barely nudged out by Publix for item availability.

Trader Joe’s, which scored 76 on the Market Force Index, has the most courteous cashiers and ranked second when it came to store cleanliness. H-E-B, which had a 69 percent ranking, received high votes for product availability and ease of shopping while being highly ranked for its specialty departments, as well.

Value was also a factor in the rankings, with Aldi, WinCo Foods and Costco tops in that department. Aldi ranked fourth overall in the Market Force study while Costco came in seventh and WinCo eighth.

Walmart, which sells more groceries than any other company, fell to the bottom of the list of 23, and its Sam’s Club division was ranked nineteenth.

Kroger, the largest supermarket operator in the U.S. was well represented on Market Force’s list. Its Harris Teeter and Fry’s divisions ranked fifth and tenth respectively. The company’s namesake chain was eleventh.

Online ordering is becoming more important across all demographics, according to Market Force. Nine percent used click-and-collect services, up from four percent last year. Eighteen percent used home delivery compared to 15 percent last year.

  • New Market Force Information Study Finds Publix and Wegmans are America’s Favorite Grocery Stores – Market Force Information

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: If you were running a grocery business, how would you prioritize the factors used in Market Force’s rankings: value for money, cashier courtesy, fast checkouts, availability of items, ease of finding items, specialty department service and store cleanliness? What would be the top grocers on your list if you were doing your own ranking?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"It’s easy to win recognition for excellence when you carry many thousands of SKUs, and store associates are outgoing and exceptionally friendly."
"The answer depends on what you’re trying to be, a high-end service provider or a lower-end value provider; neither is right or wrong."
"I can’t argue with this list, but there are probably some small regional grocers not on the list that would give these large chain a run..."

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18 Comments on "What makes consumers so loyal to Publix, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s and H-E-B?"

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Cathy Hotka

Each and every visit to Publix is remarkable. It’s easy to win recognition for excellence when you carry many thousands of SKUs, and store associates are outgoing and exceptionally friendly. I would love to learn more about their new associate orientation.

David Livingston
5 years 1 month ago

That remarkable experience you are having is called the X-Factor. Value, cashiers, fast checkouts, etc. are not the reason for shopping. They are the result of the X-Factor which we know is there but cannot identify or quantify.

Art Suriano
The first thing I notice when entering a store is how clean, well-stocked and easy to navigate it is. I also want friendly associates, not just at the register but throughout the store. I think it’s important that customers are welcomed and appreciated so if a store associate is walking by he or she should feel comfortable smiling at the customer or greeting them. It’s all part of the overall customer experience. Fast cashier service is a must, and that is where many of the smaller supermarket chains have a big problem. However, if I were running a supermarket chain, I would make sure that all the items George lists are a priority. Some customers will respond more favorably to value first while others may be more interested in the ease of finding things. But they are all equally important and will help achieve an excellent customer experience. Success in-store is obtained by “wowing” the customer and giving them a reason to come back and to tell their friends they need to shop your store… Read more »
Ross Ely

Succeeding in grocery is a function of doing a multitude of things well. Grocers like Wegmans and Publix that perennially top these surveys have reputations for simultaneously being great in product quality, value, merchandising, customer service and cleanliness.

I would enhance the list by adding leading independent grocers including Foodtown, Lowes Foods, Woods Supermarkets and Remke Markets.

Dr. Stephen Needel

The answer depends on what you’re trying to be, a high-end service provider or a lower-end value provider; neither is right or wrong. Publix tries to cross over by promoting their BOGOs but we don’t shop there for the deals, we shop their for the selection, store environment and a staff that makes you feel like you are doing them a favor by being there.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Wegmans is my personal favorite because they have a variety of products I like, fair prices, clean stores and friendly associates. Trader Joe’s is also a favorite but the variety of products is more limited.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Publix would be at the top of my list for the combination of product mix, friendly service and overall experience. When we consider price, it’s interesting. As I consider it, I realize it matters less than those top three items, in much the same way that compensation is down the list of job satisfaction criteria.

Brandon Rael

I’ve had the most philosophical conversations with Trader Joe’s cashiers, and they do really make the checkout experience go a bit more smoothly. While their casual and personal approach is very welcome, other grocery store checkout experiences are curt and to the point.

However cleanliness, ease of navigation and the checkout experience are critical. It’s also particularly important for grocery stores to ride the wave of organic and locally-sourced products, along with providing value for your dollar. Wegmans’ prepared and curated food assortments are legendary and have helped to grow their very impressive fan following.

Once you leverage your mobile platform the right way, offering personalized and customized promotions and limited time offers, then you have a winner!

Lee Peterson

From my experience it’s all about staff. First and foremost, the people that work at Publix own a piece of the company, so when touring stores with their executives the associates act like owners and ask difficult questions to said executives. That’s pretty powerful. And the other two grocers also do a fantastic job of hiring people-people who not only go above and beyond for the customer, but have fun doing it. All three make for a much more pleasant experience than a traditional grocer.

I think Whole Foods should be on the list as well, again because of their staff. In terms of knowledge and attentiveness and just caring about you and the product, they’re at the top of my list.

gordon arnold

We might wish to consider mandating all of these differentiators to ensure that all of the consumer shopping variables are being protected against failure(s) that would cause customers to shop elsewhere. If stores wish to be in first place on a store-by-store basis the demographic prioritization needs of every store must replace cookie-cutter mentalities and distribution demagogues.

Removing layers of old-style “management by any means” and replacing it with reporting relevance on a per-store basis will mean hard work at first but will insulate against market separation far more effectively. This is clearly demonstrated by Whole Foods’ recent need for drastic changes that will likely fall short of the company needs, again.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Before I comment on the question, I believe the concept of loyalty is totally backward. People can be loyal to their family, church, country, alma mater, etc. Loyalty to a food grocer or any other retailer makes no sense. As retailers, we need to be loyal to our customers. How do we do this? Simple — deliver and then exceed on our promises to our customers. If we do this we can enjoy customer continuity of purchases.

As far as the basis for customers continuing to give us their business — value, cleanliness and the quality/variety of offerings are the ante. Each of the leading supermarkets noted in the article excel on attributes beyond the big three. In my research, customers have identified the top 10 most important supermarket attributes:

  • Accurate check out;
  • Speedy check out;
  • Uncluttered aisles;
  • Easy access to parking lot;
  • Prices visible when scanned;
  • Accurate shelf tags;
  • Complaints quickly and fairly responded to;
  • Shopper friendly store layout;
  • Sale prices honored without the need to clip coupons;
  • No products on shelf after “sell by” date.
Shep Hyken

In my mind, some things are non-negotiable. You have to have merchandise that is in line with your brand. For example, Whole Foods has a higher-level product than a discount grocer. So assuming you have merchandise/product in alignment with the brand, then the customer experience is what I’d work on next. That includes the service delivered by employees, fast checkouts, etc. That is all part of the experience. Next is value for money, meaning price should be competitive but not necessarily lower.

It’s easy to see why Publix, Wegmans and Trader Joe’s do so well. They offer quality merchandise with the value-add of a quality customer experience. They know what gets and keeps their customers.

Ken Morris
Ken Morris
Managing Partner Cambridge Retail Advisors
5 years 1 month ago

If you look at the top two on this list, Publix and Wegmans, customer service is a cornerstone of these organizations. While you need to have the right assortment and reasonable prices, what really makes customers loyal is the way you treat them. We have all been in stores where the associates make us feel unwelcome or that we are bothering them, but the stores that we want to frequent are the ones that make us feel appreciated and special.

If you treat your customer like a king or queen, you will earn their loyalty, even if your prices may be higher that your competitor. Both these chains feature prepared foods that have insane loyalty. People dream of Publix fried chicken and submarine sandwiches while a recent Massachusetts opening of a Wegmans store had 1,400 peoples queued up to enter.

I can’t argue with this list, but there are probably some small regional grocers not on the list that would give these large chain a run for their money!

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
5 years 1 month ago

Grocery shopping comes down to two factors for most consumers — value and experience. I continue to believe most people do not enjoy grocery shopping. It’s something we all must do but it’s certainly not at the top of everyone’s “fun things to do” list. When consumers visit a grocery store they want a nice, pleasant experience — knowing that they expected a boring, mundane experience in the first place. Add value for your dollar into this mix, and brands like Wegmans win every time. (I can’t compare Publix directly as they aren’t in my market — yet).

When I compare the Wegmans shopping experience to any other grocery near me, it’s obvious why I shop there — good quality products, great value, and a pleasant experience driven by great associates that are always willing to help and make the checkout process easy. I believe it all starts with a great associate training program at Wegmans and a company culture that values their employees. It shows in how they deliver customer service.

John Karolefski

All grocery stores largely sell the same products. The keys to success are clean, well-stocked stores backed by efficient and friendly customer service. The X-Factor is simple: Shoppers feel good in such a store, and want to come back to feel good again.

Ed Rosenbaum

Service, service and service. You will never go in a Publix and not get courteous service in any department. Yes, some are better than others. But no matter where the store is located you will be able to find what you are looking for. My belief is this is a credit to the management. Some of the longer tenured managers have built and developed a staff knowing what to do to satisfy their customers. Over time, the customers become family. You can’t find this in many places. Certainly not Walmart or Target.

Bill Hanifin

The beauty of the question posed here for discussion is that it highlights the opportunity for each brand to carve out its own niche. While each of the grocers might have all of the attributes on their “list,” they clearly each prioritize and weight efforts to align with their own brand promise.

If you contrast the shopping experience and types of grocery customers attracted by Costco, Walmart, Trader Joe’s and Publix, you would end up with different elements from the list at the top. The answer then, as my UK friends like to say, is “horses for courses.”

JJ Kallergis

Trader Joe’s is IMHO the most unique and fun place to shop for groceries. It starts with their quirky product flyer and ends with a pleasant checkout experience. In the middle, you have product demos at the back, a wide selection of frozen and prepared foods, very good value (private label) and interesting seasonal products (i.e. Turkey & Stuffing seasoned potato chips around Thanksgiving — no, seriously you need to try them). Yes, their SKU selection is limited, but do we as consumers need 40 choices for peanut butter?

One chain that I am surprised to not see mentioned is Mariano’s (regional in Chicago area), which now happens to be owned by Kroger. Their unique take on grocery shopping focuses on the perimeter of the store (produce, meats, cheese, etc.) and prepared foods (i.e. sushi bars, smoothie stations, etc.) — two major weapons that contributed to shutting Safeway out of the Chicago market by bankrupting their Dominick’s banner.

"It’s easy to win recognition for excellence when you carry many thousands of SKUs, and store associates are outgoing and exceptionally friendly."
"The answer depends on what you’re trying to be, a high-end service provider or a lower-end value provider; neither is right or wrong."
"I can’t argue with this list, but there are probably some small regional grocers not on the list that would give these large chain a run..."

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