STUDY FINDS LOCATION, NOT PRICE, BRINGS SHOPPERS TO SUPERCENTER

VALPARAISO, Ind. -- Convenient locations, not low prices, are the main reason many consumers choose to do their grocery shopping at supercenters instead of traditional food stores.That information comes from a new study of a single market conducted by professor Frederick Langrehr and associate professor Sandra Strasser of the College of Business Administration of Valparaiso University here.Titled

VALPARAISO, Ind. -- Convenient locations, not low prices, are the main reason many consumers choose to do their grocery shopping at supercenters instead of traditional food stores.

That information comes from a new study of a single market conducted by professor Frederick Langrehr and associate professor Sandra Strasser of the College of Business Administration of Valparaiso University here.

Titled "Who Is and Is Not the Discounter Supercenter Shopper? A Study in One Market," the study questions some long-held theories about supercenter shoppers, such as the format's ability to draw them from long distances.

In an interview with SN, Langrehr, a professor of retail management and marketing, said: "People will look at [supercenters] as supermarkets and if they're close enough they will shop there and if they're not close, they won't shop there."

The study examines the retail atmosphere in and around Portage, Ind., a suburban town about one hour away from Chicago with a population of about 75,000. Students at the university conducted telephone interviews with 174 people -- 80% of whom were female. Those interviewed lived within a 5-mile radius of the town's Super Kmart Center and identified themselves as their household's primary shopper.

The Super Kmart was opened in spring 1994, when Kmart, Troy, Mich., converted one of its traditional discount units into a 190,000-square-foot food and general merchandise combination store.

In addition to suggesting that convenient location was a key reason for consumers to shop at supercenters, other major findings included:

Variety and selection at the Super Kmart were lauded by consumers.

Shoppers were relying on the supercenter for food but went to supermarkets for health and beauty care.

Super Kmart shoppers cared less about produce variety than other shoppers.

Consumers who favored the supercenter for food shopping tended to be younger and more

educated than their nonsupercenter counterparts.

Prices were perceived by shoppers as higher at the Super Kmart than at traditional food stores.

Strack & Van Til Supermarkets, Schererville, Ind., operates two stores in the area -- one Strack & Van Til Mega Mart that the study characterized as a "superstore" and one Town & Country Supermarket that the study characterized as a "super warehouse store."

Other operators in the market are Aldi, Batavia, Ill., and five traditional supermarkets. With the exception of one store run by Eagle Food Centers, Milan, Ill., the supermarkets were independent operations.

When asked where they did most of their shopping, 36% of respondents said they shopped at the Town & Country Supermarket, 29% at traditional supermarkets, 16% at Super Kmart and 11% at Mega Mart. The study found that 8% of respondents considered limited-assortment operator Aldi their primary grocery store.

Among consumers who said they considered Super Kmart their primary grocery store, only 18% said low prices were the reason they did most of their food shopping at Super Kmart. The two main reasons consumers gave for choosing Super Kmart were convenient location, cited by 25% of those surveyed, and variety and selection, cited by 21%. Nevertheless, 86% of those who said they did most of their shopping at the supercenter also purchased groceries at other types of stores.

Fifty-five percent of Super Kmart shoppers said they had purchased food as well as general merchandise-type items, such as clothing and home furnishings. Health and beauty care items were considered "supermarket-type merchandise."

For consumers who said they did most of their food shopping at traditional supermarkets, low prices were the second most important factor, cited by 35% of those surveyed. Convenient location was the most important factor in determining where to shop, cited by 42%.

Those who did not regularly buy most of their groceries at Super Kmart gave high prices (30%) and inconvenient location (25%) as their major reasons. Nineteen percent of those surveyed said they did not like the size of the Super Kmart.

More than 75% said they had purchased grocery items at Super Kmart within the last year and 21% purchased groceries on their last trip to Super Kmart. A total of 63% purchased groceries and general merchandise on their last trip to the supercenter.

Less than 25% of the respondents said they had never purchased groceries at Super Kmart, citing inconvenient location (39%), no special reason or they just didn't like the store (28%) and the store's size (10%).

The fact that three of the area's stores are closed on Sundays (while the Super K is open) might influence consumer shopping habits since 55% of respondents said their primary food store was closed on Sundays.

Although variety and selection are emphasized by supercenter operators, only 8% of those who primarily shopped at other formats considered variety and selection the main reason for choosing a grocery store. Moreover, 6% of those who did not buy most of their food products at Super Kmart said the store had a poor selection.