The Competition: Consumers Looking To Supercenters

As U.S consumers are shopping and buying less in a troubled economy, they’re increasingly relying on supercenters for their needs, according a new report from The Nielsen Company.

Nielsen’s analysis of 2008 unit sales shows budget-conscious consumers increased their supercenter spending across nearly every department, including dairy, dry grocery and prescription drugs.

The Nielsen research showed the supercenter channel was the only retail channel to post overall unit sales growth at 1%.

While four retail channels (drug stores, supercenters, club stores and dollar stores) recorded sales gains from consumers shifting department purchases across channels, these gains were offset by consumers cutting back on purchases for an overall decline in unit sales, the report said.

“Mass merchandisers and grocery stores are feeling the impact of the supercenter,” said Todd Hale, senior vice president of Consumer & Shopper Insights at Nielsen. “Where we really start to see the expanding reach of the supercenter is in grocery, where a shift is occurring in everything from dairy and produce to meat and frozen foods. While the grocery channel has traditionally been viewed as recession-resistant, it is not recession-proof.”

Tens of thousands of conveniently located grocery stores helped some grocers grab general merchandise sales from mass merchandisers, dollar stores and other channels, the Nielsen report said, adding that some grocers also experience prescription drug shifting gains from drug stores.

As it relates to the convenience channel, grocery promotions tying in-store spending to discounted gas prices allowed the grocery channel to capture some sales from convenience and gas retailers.

“Grocery stores have found gas promotion tie-ins to be very successful in capturing shopper trips, especially when high gas prices were putting a serious crimp on consumer spending for the first eight months of the year,” Hale said.

Warehouse clubs and dollar stores have also reaped significant benefits from a recession-minded consumer base. Warehouse clubs saw increases across the board, while dollar stores racked up gains in all but two departments – - general merchandise and health and beauty aids.

“Consumers continue to look for ways to stretch their dollar, and in some areas, that means shifting their spending in traditional grocery departments such as frozen and dry goods to warehouse clubs and dollar stores,” said Hale. “That said, the positive shifting trends for the warehouse and dollar channels are not enough to offset losses due to consumers simply cutting back in this difficult economy.”

Not surprisingly, most major industries are struggling with lower consumer spending and will continue to do so as unemployment increases in 2009, the report said.

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