POLL: ONE IN FIVE CONSUMERS MAY SHOP VIA THE INTERNET

News & Solutions internetCHARLESTON, S.C. -- The potential for commerce over the Internet to exert a mighty influence on how consumers view and shop supermarkets is prompting much debate and even some serious nail-biting by executives concerned about long-term business strategies.Thus far, however, consumers have barely tapped into the virtual universe of on-line supermarket services. A national survey

News & Solutions internet

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The potential for commerce over the Internet to exert a mighty influence on how consumers view and shop supermarkets is prompting much debate and even some serious nail-biting by executives concerned about long-term business strategies.

Thus far, however, consumers have barely tapped into the virtual universe of on-line supermarket services. A national survey of 1,000 consumers, for example, revealed that less than 1% of respondents had viewed, even once, a supermarket home page on the World Wide Web.

But that could be on the verge of changing. Nearly 20% of those interviewed said they were "very" or "somewhat likely" to consider shopping for groceries on the Internet in the future. In addition, 8% said they had viewed nonsupermarket Web sites on the Internet.

Expected growth in consumer use of Internet-driven supermarket services was one of the important findings of the survey, conducted by America's Research Group here March 20 to 25 and sponsored by SN, published by Fairchild Publications, New York. Other consumer trends revealed by the study were:

Electronic Payment Surge: One-third of consumers surveyed said they frequently or sometimes use credit, debit or charge cards to pay for supermarket purchases, a steep jump from just over 10% a year ago.

In addition, use of electronic forms of payment will continue to surge in supermarkets. More than one-quarter, 27.6%, of survey respondents said they expect to use credit, debit or charge cards more frequently in the coming year vs. 12.5% a year ago.

Checkout Speed: Consumers are growing increasingly impatient with checkout speed, with 20% reporting they were not satisfied with the speed of the checkout process at their store this year, compared with 13.7% last year.

Despite the hike in percentage of consumers dissatisfied with checkout speed, the vast majority of respondents, 85.2%, expect matters to improve in the future, while 2.5% expect it to remain the same, and 12.3% to get worse. The optimistic outlook represents a slight rise in expectations from last year.

Consumers were also asked about front-end scanning accuracy, with the majority, 94%, expressing confidence in the systems and only 6%, down from 8.9% a year ago, citing reservations.

Frequent Shopper Status: Participation in frequent shopper programs remained about the same as last year, according to the study, but consumer perceptions regarding the programs changed.

One in five consumers interviewed said their primary supermarket now offers a card-based frequent shopper program, up 1.7% from last year's survey.

But the percentage of consumers satisfied with their store's frequent shopper program dropped substantially, from 96.3% in 1995 to 86.8% in this year's study.

In addition, the correlation between frequent shopper programs and customer loyalty also weakened: Just over one in three consumers, 33.8%, said they felt more loyal to their primary supermarket as a result of the program compared with 49.7% of survey respondents last year.

The percentage of shoppers who said supermarket frequent shopper programs affected their purchasing decisions also dropped. Last year, 40.6% said such programs affected what they purchased vs. 31.4% this year.

Home Shopping Trend: Just over one-fifth of consumers, 21.2%, said they had access to some form of shopping and delivery service in their market area, a slight increase from last year.

The percentage of consumers using home delivery services also rose, from 6.9% of respondents in the 1995 survey to 9.0% this year. Even more important may have been a sharp jump in the percentage of consumers who expect to try such a service in the year ahead, 24.1%, compared with just 9.4% last year.

Of consumers who have used a home shopping and delivery service, the vast majority, 94.8%, said they were satisfied with it.

Safe Shopping: The survey also looked at security concerns and found that most, 84.3%, of consumers felt "very safe" when shopping in supermarkets, while 14.7% felt "somewhat safe" and 1.0% "unsafe."

Among those who felt only somewhat safe or unsafe, about one in six, 15.3%, said they had changed their shopping habits as a result of anxiety about safety.

The survey carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3%.