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Against a backdrop of economic volatility in late 2021, value weighed heavily for consumers in deciding which retailers earned their loyalty, InMarket's location data indicated.

Walmart, H-E-B stand out in retail customer loyalty

Market Basket posts third-highest score in InMarket ranking

Walmart led all retailers by far in customer loyalty to close out 2021, despite strong showing by other big-box operators and supermarket chains, according to consumer intelligence and marketing specialist InMarket.

For the fourth quarter, Walmart garnered a shopper loyalty score of 5.68, well ahead of its closest big-box competitor Meijer at 3.58 and above supermarket loyalty leader H-E-B at 4.63, Austin, Texas-based InMarket said in its Insights Q4 2021 Consumer Loyalty Report, released Monday.

The only other retailer exceeding the big-box category average score of 3.01 was The Kroger Co.’s Fred Meyer, at 3.39. Also scoring in the top five were Target (2.62) and Walmart’s Sam’s Club warehouse club subsidiary (2.35).

“Among the top-five big box stores, chains like Walmart and Meijer saw above-average consumer loyalty, likely due to their value-based pricing strategies in the face of rising costs and reported inflation reports,” InMarket stated in its report.


To compare retailer customer loyalty, InMarket used first-party, permission-based SDK location data to assess foot traffic patterns and visitation history of U.S. consumers from October to December 2021. Chains were ranked based on their assigned loyalty score, determined by the number of visits observed and normalized month-to-month. For example, InMarket said, a retailer with 1 million visits from 500,000 device would have a loyalty score of 2.0, whereas another retailer with 10,000 visits from 4,000 devices would score 2.5 for loyalty.

InMarket ranked the top five retailers by loyalty in the mass merchant (big-box), supermarket, drug store, dollar store, department store, apparel store, and QSR/CDR restaurant segments. The average score across all categories came in at 1.85 for the 2021 fourth quarter. Walmart averaged more than five monthly visits for the quarter, InMarket said.


In the grocery sector, H-E-B’s mark of 4.63 easily bested No. 2 finisher Market Basket at  a shopper loyalty score of 3.9. But the results were close, with three Kroger Co. banners rounding out the top five: Kroger at 3.8, King Soopers at 3.77 and Fry’s at 3.76. Supermarkets posted an average score 1.93.

“Grocery stores like H-E-B and Kroger were subject to heavy inflation and supply chain issues, with grocery and food prices increasing by 6.4% year over year by November 2021,” InMarket explained. “However, these chains all scored well-above average total consumer loyalty (1.85) as consumers again chose to shop with brands they knew would offer them the right price.”

Drugstores had the second-highest category average score (2.06) in customer loyalty, behind big-box chains. CVS Pharmacy came in first with a mark of 2.72, followed by Walgreens (2.0), Health Mart (1.93), The Medicine Shoppe (1.77) and Rite Aid (1.77). The Health Mart and The Medicine Shoppe banners represent independent retail pharmacy networks operated by pharmaceutical distributors McKesson and Cardinal Health, respectively.

Pharmacy giant CVS led the field with its breadth of health and wellness offerings, according to InMarket. “CVS topped the charts in Q4 2021, having a well-above-average loyalty score. Walgreens scored slightly below average, as consumer loyalty appeared to be tied to rewards programs and better health care offerings, such as free vaccines and COVID testing,” the report said.


In the dollar store segment, Dollar General finished first with a customer loyalty score of 2.32, ahead of rival Dollar Tree’s 2.03 mark. Rounding out the top five were 99 Cents Only Stores at 1.93, Dollar Tree’s Family Dollar banner at 1.87 and Five Below at 1.67, the only chain among the leaders below the category average of 1.84.

“Dollar stores like Dollar General, Dollar Tree and 99 Cents Only Stores saw higher-than-average consumer loyalty in Q4 2021, with Dollar General superseding Dollar Tree in the ranks after the latter notably hiked prices due to inflation, reportedly angering consumers and potentially causing them to cede loyalty to their competitor,” InMarket observed in its analysis. “However, the dollar store model is still functioning effectively, as the value proposition of getting more for less continues to entice consumers.”

The customer loyalty leaders in the other sectors were Kohl’s at a score for 1.79 for department stores (category average 1.75), Windsor at 2.0 for apparel stores (category average 1.72) and Starbucks at 3.87 for QSR/CDR restaurants (category average 1.85).

InMarket noted that the economic volatility in late 2021 — especially rising prices in food and other goods, coupled with product shortages — put many consumers in a value frame of mind.

“In Q4 2021, supply chain issues and inflation increasingly concerned consumers, challenging companies to prepare themselves for a decrease in demand and a slowdown in spending,” InMarket said in its report. “With post-pandemic consumer behavior remaining an enigma, brands across all verticals needed a plan to acquire new customers and strengthen loyalty with existing ones. InMarket analyzed shopper visits of 11 to 180 minutes to find that, in general, brands that tuned in to consumer concerns and offered value — most times by keeping prices low — saw above-average consumer loyalty. In many cases, those who instead opted to raise prices experienced the opposite. For example, of the top 35 brands, 24 of them outperformed their respective category loyalty averages, likely due to their value offerings.”

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