Where We Shop, What It Means

Jul 12, 2004

By George Anderson

Stores magazine’s top 10 retailers list left Margaret Webb Pressler wondering what the list says about Americans as shoppers and the state of retailing in the country.

“What’s clear is that we are a nation of shoppers that is both empowered and stuck — stuck with chains that aren’t that great but that are so ubiquitous we have no choice but to shop there,” she wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post. “On the one hand, we’re getting low prices and lots of selection from the world’s biggest array of discounters offering the most products at the lowest prices. On the other hand, when it comes to the most basic retail need — food — the supermarket chains on the list leave quite a lot to be desired.”

Stores’ Top 10 Retailers

  1. Wal-Mart

  2. Home Depot

  3. Kroger

  4. Target

  5. Costco

  6. Sears

  7. Safeway

  8. Albertsons

  9. Walgreen’s

  10. Lowe’s

Rick Gallagher, publisher of Stores magazine, said the list suggests Americans are “more practical” than has been suggested when it comes to shopping.

Being more practical also extends to looking for the best deals.

According to Mr. Gallagher, “Despite everything that we might say about how much we value customer service, look at this list. When push comes to shove, people are going to choose low prices over service.”

Some might say the retailer at the top of the list, Wal-Mart, best exemplifies consumers’ willingness to trade service for lower prices.

Paco Underhill, president of retail consulting firm Envirosell, says the move to Wal-Mart has been made out of financial necessity.

“I fundamentally believe that Wal-Mart has made a middle-class lifestyle possible for at least one, if not two, generations of Americans who, unlike their parents, are having to spend huge sums of money on medical insurance and the cost of housing,” he said. “That money has had to come out of something, and Wal-Mart has helped American families not be downwardly mobile.”

Moderator’s Comment: What do the top 10 retailers on Stores‘ list say about how Americans shop and the state
of retailing in the country?

Wendy Liebman, founder of WSL Strategic Retail, had it right. She told the Washington Post, “Big makes it harder to be great.”

The only thing we would add to that is it doesn’t make it impossible. Even in the list of the biggest retailers, there are examples, such as Wal-Mart’s
supply channel efficiency, Costco’s upscale product offerings or Lowe’s marketing and merchandising programs targeted to women, that demonstrate best-in-class performance needn’t
be confined to the smaller guys.

George Anderson – Moderator

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