Two supermarket operators in the Northeast last week changed the dates that their weekly ad circular breaks, moves that observers said could save labor costs while better positioning their stores for busy weekend shopping days.
A&P, Montvale, N.J., switched the weekly start date from Saturday to Friday at its A&P, Food Emporium, Waldbaum's SuperFresh and Food Basics banners in the Northeast, as well as at its Farmer Jack stores in Michigan, beginning last Friday. Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover, sister divisions of Ahold USA, Quincy, Mass., switched their weekly ad start dates from Sunday to Friday, also beginning last week.
Both chains promoted the changes though notices published in their recent weekly sales fliers and on their websites. Though the moves come simultaneously, representatives of both chains told SN the timing was coincidental.
"We believe this gives us an opportunity to better serve our customers by starting a sale during their busiest shopping days," Ahold spokeswoman Faith Weiner told SN. "It helps them plan their weekends better and allows us to better stock sale items when they need them most."
Observers said the change could help save costs by shifting labor associated with the weekly ads from weekends, when some union contracts call for premium pay scales, to weekdays. It also reflects gradual changes in shopping patterns: Consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet for ad information, while fewer shoppers are relying on circulars distributed with their Sunday newspaper.
"While you give up something in terms of newspaper distribution on Sundays, Stop & Shop has just broken to move all its price ad zones to Internet advertising," Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, New York, told SN. "A shopper can go online now and on Thursday afternoon, see the Friday ad program."
The Stop & Shop and Giant websites last week published lists of dates to find fliers in local newspapers. Neighborhoods receiving sales fliers by direct mail will now receive them Wednesday through Friday, the company added.
Shoppers are also doing an increasing amount of their shopping on weekends, sources said, with many stores doing in excess of 50% of their weekly volume on Saturday and Sunday.
"Weekends are where the intense competition is," Ken Wykoff, president of Circular Logic, a Charlotte, N.C.-based loyalty marketing firm, told SN. By starting ads on Fridays rather than Sundays, he added, "you can hit aggressively on the first day.
"So many people shop on Saturday, that having a major ad come out the day after you've done your major shopping may not be the best time," Wykoff added. "So why not move it before the heavy shopping day?"
In the Northeast, where A&P and Ahold compete in several markets, the simultaneous switch could dull the advantage for either of them, Flickinger predicted. When Pathmark moved to a Friday ad break in 2003, the change helped its overall sales for a time, officials said.
Last week's changes leave only ShopRite and King Kullen as major metro New York store brands not to start their ads on Fridays. Bethpage, N.Y.-based King Kullen breaks its ads on Saturdays. ShopRite, the cooperative supplied by Wakefern, Elizabeth, N.J., breaks its ad Sundays.
Wakefern spokeswoman Karen Meleta told SN the group had no plans to change its ad date but "it's something we've looked at before and will continue to look at."
"Sunday has worked for us," she added.
Massachusetts-based Shaw's Supermarkets and Acme Markets in Philadelphia, both owned by Supervalu, break ads on Fridays.
"It's consistent with a more consumer-centric approach," Wykoff said. "Retailers used to base their decisions on what was the best food day for ads in the newspaper. Today, things have progressed enough so that the retailer has some flexibility as far as when they drop the ad."