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    Supermarket Trips Shrinking, ACNielsen Study Finds

    Customers favor warehouse club stores, dollar stores and supercenters.

    SCHAUMBURG, Ill. -- Consumers in the United States are continuing to scale back their trips to the grocery store, opting instead for supercenters, dollar stores, and warehouse club stores, according to the latest 'Channel Blurring' study from ACNielsen U.S., a sister company of Convenience Store News.

    New store openings are helping fuel the growth of supercenters, dollar stores, and warehouse club stores, said Todd Hale, senior vice president of consumer insights for ACNielsen U.S.

    "These channels are competing vigorously with the grocery channel, which enjoys 100 percent household penetration. In order to defend their turf, grocery retailers need to focus on perimeter departments, making sure that their 'fresh' departments -- produce, baked goods, meat, seafood, and deli -- are the best in town," Hale said. "Lets face it, today you can get pain relievers at office supply stores and snacks at video rental stores, but not everyone can do a great job with fresh produce."

    Both supercenters and dollar stores made gains in both the percentage of households who shop in those channels and the number of shopping trips consumers made to them last year. Household penetration of supercenters climbed to 63 percent in 2002 up from 60 percent the previous year, while trips per year increased from 18 to 21, according to ACNielsen data.

    Household penetration of dollar stores jumped to 62 percent in 2002, up from 59 percent the previous year, with trips per year increased from 11 to 12. Warehouse club stores grew their shopper base while holding steady in shopping frequency; drug stores stayed even on both measures; convenience stores notched up in household penetration but slipped in trip frequency; and traditional mass merchandisers continued their multiyear slide in both household penetration and trip frequency.

    With more retail formats to choose from, some consumers are spreading their shopping across many stores, a phenomenon Hale refers to as 'channel grazing.' Nearly one-third (31%) of households are what he terms 'heavy grazers,' those that shop in 29 or more retailers or retail channels per year.

    In part, deal-seeking appears to be a motivating factor for people who shop in the highest number of stores. For example, heavy grazers are more likely than light grazers to agree with statements such as, 'I use coupons on most of my shopping trips,' and, 'I always look around food aisles in non-grocery stores for a good deal or to see what's there.'

    However, Hale said there is more to channel grazing than an attempt by consumers to save money. "If they perceive it to be inconvenient, heavy grazers are no more willing than light grazers to shop at a store that offers low prices. So, I believe part of the channel grazing phenomenon can be attributed to the novelty of seeing what's new; it's the notion of shopping as entertainment."

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