Low Prices Replace Customer Service As Loyalty Driver

In a vast departure from COLLOQUY’s 2008 report on consumer loyalty to U.S retailers, Walmart dominated the 2010 COLLOQUY Retail Loyalty Index, in results that reflect a reality of the Great Recession – low prices drove consumer loyalty.

COLLOQUY, the publishing, education and research division of LoyaltyOne, previously published the COLLOQUY Retail Loyalty Index in 2008.  COLLOQUY’s index ranks the top U.S. retailers according to customer loyalty ratings. The 2010 index was built from a December 2009 survey of 3,500 U.S. consumers in five regions: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest and Northwest. Respondents were surveyed across four retail categories that included Grocery, Personal Care, Department Stores and Mass Merchants.

The 2010 COLLOQUY Retail Loyalty Index shows customers claimed the highest loyalty to Walmart in many of the Grocery, Personal Care and Department Store regional categories. Costco had the highest customer loyalty ratings in three out of five Mass Merchant regional categories. In COLLOQUY’s 2008 index, shoppers claimed the most loyalty to Costco, which ranked first in nine out of  20 regional and retail categories. 

“Our 2008 index showed that loyalty marketers worked within a significantly different retail landscape. Customer service, store environment and a wide product selection were the underlying factors for customers’ self-professed loyalty. But our 2010 index proves that the Great Recession became the great equalizer,” said COLLOQUY Partner Kelly Hlavinka. “Two years later, customers view loyalty differently.  We’ve witnessed a profound change among consumers since the recession hit: Low prices have stepped up to become retail’s strongest loyalty lure according to consumers. That is something which was simply not true in 2008,” she said.

Hlavinka is the author of a 17-page white paper titled “RetailTALK: What Price Loyalty? The 2010 COLLOQUY Retail Loyalty Index,” which provides a complete review and analysis of COLLOQUY’s latest study of U.S. retail consumer loyalty ratings and attitudes. The paper is available free of charge at http://www.colloquy.com/files/2010-COLLOQUY-RetailTalk-White-Paper.pdf.

While Walmart clearly dominated most retail categories, other chains – including Kroger and Walgreens – did climb up the loyalty chart or make their first appearances, edging out 2008 loyalty leaders. Here are the highlights by category:

 

Grocery

Kroger, which has adopted a customer-centric focus and used a customer loyalty program through the recession, was the loyalty leader in the Midwest. In the Southeast, Publix moved up to first place from its second-place showing in 2008. In the Southwest, regional grocer H-E-B ranked first with similar messaging to Walmart and the continuation of a six-store rewards program in its Waco, Texas, stores.

But the highly fragmented Grocery sector, where neither conventional nor discount grocers operate in every state, holds certain advantages for Walmart.  Walmart’s message of low prices and value resonates with customers – and its ability to deliver on that promise by leveraging its broad distribution network translated to first-place consumer loyalty ratings for Walmart in the Northeast and Northwest, and third-place finishes in the Southeast, Southwest and the Midwest.

 

Personal Care

In the highly competitive Southeast region, Walgreens finished in a dead heat with Walmart for the top loyalty ranking, with CVS and Publix tied for second place. In a tight three-way race in the Midwest, Walgreens and CVS edged out Walmart, even though CVS hadn’t been among the top five in 2008.

Walmart easily won the Northwest, maintained the top spot in the Southwest, and finished ahead of CVS and Rite Aid in the Northeast.

 

Mass Merchandisers

The regional chains BJ’s Wholesale and Meijer replaced familiar names, such as Sears, Sam’s Club and Big Lots, for top loyalty rankings in the important Northeast and Midwest markets (respectively). Costco continued to rank first in all other U.S. regions.

Walmart, meanwhile, came in second in all but the Southeast, where it ranked third behind Target, which itself rated third in the rest of the country.   

 

Department stores

Several chains that made the top three spot in COLLOQUY’s 2008 Retail Loyalty Index for department stores fell off the 2010 top-three list – among them J.C. Penney, Dillard’s and Dollar General. As in other retail categories, these names were replaced in large part by Walmart and Target.

Walmart ranked first in customer loyalty ratings in the Northeast and Midwest, and tied with Macy’s for the top spot in the Southwest. In the Southeast, Walmart took second to Target, and in the Northwest it followed top-spotter Costco.

“With the recession acting like a second-stage booster rocket, Walmart has upended the status quo among its national retail peers by chewing into their last remaining frontier – customer-professed loyalty – at least for now,” Hlavinka said.  “The glimmer of hope for retailers is that as jobless rates go down and consumer confidence returns, retailers may very well regain their footing – if they continue to work towards customer-centric solutions and more sustainable strategies rather than combating Walmart on low prices.”

 

 

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