2020 Grocery Store Competitive Study eBook

We recently surveyed over 10,000 US consumers for our 2020 Grocery Benchmark Study. Shopping habits including brand preference, customer experience, brand engagement, and brand awareness were examined to learn what drives customer satisfaction.

Find out which Grocery stores are America's favorites and why in our new eBook.
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America’s top grocer has changed in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

The results of Market Force Information’s annual US Grocery Competitive Benchmark study are in, and it is good news for brands that offer digital grocery shopping services. No doubt, the COVID-19 outbreak has transformed the grocery shopping experience as we know it. If a brand had operational challenges pre-pandemic, reduced staff and safety restrictions amplified longer than normal lines, out of stock products due to product hoarding, and increased business volume.

Our most notable finding is that services offered in the traditional shopping experience are no longer a primary differentiator. COVID-19 safety guidelines, along with nationwide shelter in place orders, have caused grocery shoppers of all ages to adopt digital shopping methods.

In this “new normal,” we find guaranteeing customer experience excellence takes more than just competitive prices. Shoppers want a positive and easy shopping experience, a pleasant store atmosphere with high-quality food, a favorable rewards program, and, most importantly, a problem-free experience. As an overview of our findings, we broke down the top ten driving features of why and where consumers choose to spend their grocery shopping dollars:

1. Convenient location
2. Good sales and promotions
3. Value received for money paid
4. Variety of merchandise and selections
5. Cleanliness
6. Friendly and courteous staff
7. Fast check out
8. Loyalty and reward programs
9. Overall reputation and integrity
10. High-quality produce

To find out which brands came out on top, join our industry experts for a webinar Thursday, June 25, at 11:30 am EST or get in touch to schedule time with our team to review the findings.
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PEACHTREE CORNERS, GA. JUNE 17 2020 — Every year Market Force Information® studies the top multi-unit brands across several industries to uncover the best of the best. With a unique approach to analytics, competitive study results determine what matters most to consumers and how top brands compare across several dimensions of the customer experience. For Market Force clients, this expertise is applied in combination with data science to provide guidance in helping brands improve their brand awareness and deliver continuous performance improvement.

The Grocery annual competitive study surveyed over 10,000 US consumers asking about their grocery shopping habits including brand preference, customer experience, brand engagement, and brand awareness. Respondents provided feedback on their technology usage, coupons gathered from printed circulars, available food options, and meal kits to reveal which customer experience attributes helped high performing brands stand out from the competition. That data was averaged to evaluate each brand on an aggregation of overall experience and likelihood of a consumer to recommend that brand to friends or family, creating the Composite Loyalty Index (CLI).

This year’s top honors go to Trader Joe’s who have supplanted Wegman’s to earn the 2020 top ranking. What’s important to consumers has changed, and so has the way that they are using grocery brands. It is paramount to be able to quickly adapt to operate in this new reality.

To develop the list of brand rankings, Market Force asked survey participants to rate their last experience at a grocery chain and their likelihood to recommend it to others. That data was averaged to rate each brand on an aggregation of the two measures creating the Composite Loyalty Index (CLI). Only brands that received 100 or more reviews were included in the rankings.

Survey Demographics
The survey was conducted online in March 2020 across the United States. The pool of 10,882 respondents represented a cross-section of the four Census regions and reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with 54% reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondent ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 74% were female, 25% were male and 1% preferred not to answer.
Get in touch with our team to learn more.
Register for the Upcoming Webinar where our industry experts review the results.

About Market Force Information
Market Force Information® is a customer experience consultancy that works with leading restaurant and retail organizations, from the C-suite to front line team members, to empower business outcomes that enable sustainable growth in customer satisfaction and financial performance. Operating globally to serve over 200 clients, Market Force is recognized by the AMA Gold Report as a top 50 market research organization and CIO Applications as a Top 10 Analytics Solutions Providers.
Date: Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The availability of family meal options is driving where we eat during COVID19.

As parts of the nation still find itself locked down by the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer expectations and behaviors are changing! As this new normal is likely to last well past the current health crisis, Market Force wanted to understand these new marketplace dynamics.

To better understand consumers, how they are feeling, and what they are doing, we surveyed almost 4,000 US consumers. We wanted to see how they perceive restaurants responding to infection control, attitudes toward contactless transactions, meal planning considerations, and meal delivery problem experiences. In the beginning weeks of May, we again surveyed our panel of respondents to learn how and if their sentiment changed as social distancing and restaurant operation restrictions continued.

With the closure of restaurants and bars in many states, the pandemic has forced operators to come up with creative solutions to feed their customers and adapt their menus to meet new dining expectations. Some ramping up curbside pickup and contactless delivery with others offering meal deals and family specials to entice quarantined home-based consumers to get back out into the community. Restaurant Business Online shared what some of the most creative eateries, from Michelin-starred operations to local hometown pubs, are doing to meet new expectations.

With most schools shut down for the past few months, more than 50 million kids have been sent home, complicating life for families with working parents. This new normal for family life shines a spotlight on the ever-present challenges of balancing work and family in a society with an always-on work culture. To simplify a day-to-day household chore like meal preparation, parents have looked to ordering meals in to feed their families.

Our May Consumer Sentiment Study revealed that Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR) and Casual Dining restaurants have offered more family meals to meet this demand, but over the last month, diners are finding them less attractive. Where 24% of QSR diners found family meals very attractive at the beginning of April, only 16% had the same sentiment when responding in May. Overall, Casual Dining customers found family meals more attractive, but sentiment in this sector also fell to 25% in May when compared to 31% in April. Based on May’s Consumer Sentiment results, the primary reasons for dissatisfaction with family meal options were due to the growing expense and lack of variety in both menu items and meal sizes.

Although 83% of diners claim they will continue to frequent brands they trust, key findings indicate that restaurant brands are at risk of losing loyal customers as they start visiting competing brands that offer the type of meals they are looking for at a price that better fits their budgets. The low hanging fruit where both QSR and Casual Dining restaurants can easily improve customer satisfaction is offering more flexibility with family meals. Possibly including a few different price point packages for variety as well as creating offerings for smaller groups of two or three with the option for a family to make selections from different protein choices, various side items, and dessert options.

COVID-19 is driving changes in what consumers are looking for to feed their families. Restaurants will be well-served to strongly consider their options and how they promote them in their various digital service channels.
Continue to Build Trust

It’s all about trust! 4 factors you must consider before you reopen your business.

On a state-by-state basis, shelter in place mandates are being lifted as non-essential businesses are starting to reopen. States like Georgia and Texas have opened with limited capacity requirements based on published guidelines for businesses to follow. But while each state’s guidelines are different, there are universal characteristics for reopening that are largely based on guest preferences.

As consumer expectations have changed as a result of the pandemic, Market Force wanted to understand the new dynamics of the marketplace as changes in behaviors are likely to last well past the current crisis. We’ve been conducting a COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Study throughout the crisis to keep a pulse on what consumers are looking for in this ‘new normal’.

The primary insight from the research is trust. In order to reopen effectively, brands will need to generate strong degrees of trust across four factors.

1. Brand Trust
The first factor of trust is of the brand itself. Brands already valued by the marketplace will have an easier time than those without perceived brand equity as a strong element of their value proposition with consumers.

2. Employee Trust
The second element is trust from employees. As employees across all industries have been laid off during this crisis, they may have concerns coming back to work in fear they could be putting themselves at risk of getting sick. Can you guarantee that if they get sick once they are back in your store, that you pay them while they self-quarantine?

3. Trust in Following Safety Protocols
The proof is in the pudding as the third element of trust is what guests actually see and experience. Are you following the protocols set in place by local governments? Is there evidence of cleaning taking place, are team members wearing masks and gloves, and are you practicing effective social distancing? There is a specific list of items critical to building trust with consumers and for them, seeing is believing. If your guests actually see protocols happening, they will feel comfortable that you are taking all of the right precautions to protect them. On the other hand, if they don’t see them, you are likely to lose them to the competition.

One of the insights from our COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Study is that 21% of consumers switched to a new restaurant brand during the pandemic. Proof that your customer base has never been at greater risk of leaving for competition than now as you come out of the reopening process. Not only is it important that you follow the state guidelines, but critical to consider consumer perception.

Dave Boennighausen, CEO of Noodles & Company, said it well when he was recently quoted, “We're ready to do that reasonably soon as markets open up. But what we're going to look at is, we're going to take our cues from not just the regulatory agencies, but also the guests.” In some cases, brands will need to adopt behaviors that are not explicitly laid out by state mandate, but rather from insight derived by consumer research.

4. Trust in Fellow Consumers
Your guests are going to be looking at what their neighbors are doing – are all guests following requested social distancing and wearing a mask? This element is somewhat out of your control as some people may violate safely rules scaring others into dining or shopping where they feel they will have a more comfortable experience.

We have seen Costco proclaim customers cannot shop inside their stores without a mask. Likewise, JetBlue has advised that there will be no one on their flights without a facemask – employees or passengers. A brand taking control of this narrative will take consumer safety concerns off the table.

Trust is the Name of the Game
Creating trust in the new normal will not be easy, but will be important to keep current customers happy and safe while also attracting new customers. Todd Graves, co-CEO of Raising Cane’s, was on point when recently quoted as saying, “For people to trust, our industry has to be very serious and has to guide and constantly stay incredibly, intensely focused on doing this because customers are going to go to the places that they trust. And this is going to last long-term.”

Regrettably, we are already seeing that many brands are getting it wrong. Mark Cuban recently conducted a series of evaluations to assess how effectively the state of Texas reopened. Auditing approximately 300 stores, the first sign of concern was the fact that only 36% of the stores that he chose to audit had actually opened over the weekend; a sure sign that brands are a little leary of opening up with these new requirements to fulfill.

The alarming observation? Only 4% of the stores that were visited were 100% compliant and 33% were non-compliant on over 50% of the requirements. The largest gaps in execution were seen with contactless payment methods, the presence of hand sanitizer at entrances/exits, and a lack of marked waiting spots on the floor. Brands that are not executing mandated safety standards are putting themselves at tremendous risk.

Brand Trust Audits
If your consumers do not see that your staff or other customers are adhering to government guidelines, you will be placing market share at risk! Seeing is believing, and missteps in operational execution can be costly. Brand Trust Audits can help as an effective early warning system to ensure each location is following the appropriate procedures to protect your business from safety risks, fines, and costly customer attrition.

Brands have one shot to get this right in each store, in each state. Brand Trust Audits are the first step to keeping your finger on the pulse of your reopening efforts providing your leadership team visibility into operational execution with alerts and warnings in near real-time, so you have an opportunity to react before too much damage is done. Evaluation results are uploaded and stored on the KnowledgeForce® Platform to create organization-wide visibility to critical issues across the system.

Market Force understands the state-by-state requirements along with the changing landscape of consumer sentiment and our team is here to help ensure your success. Please get in touch to learn how we can support this critical initiative.
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As Managing Director, Brad Christian consults multi-location businesses on optimizing the customer experience. With a focus on driving location level performance improvement in both customer loyalty and financial metrics, he helps client organizations prioritize initiatives based on their potential to deliver ROI.
Peachtree Corners, GA. May 18, 2020 — In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer expectations and behaviors are changing in real-time! Market Force Information® wanted to understand the new dynamics of the marketplace as expectations and behaviors are likely to last well past the current crisis. Between May 6 and 8, 2020, we surveyed 3,964 US consumers to learn how they see retailers and restaurants responding to infection control, use of alternate shopping and dining methods, behavior and attitude changes toward contactless transactions, and problem experiences. This is the second wave report, following up a study conducted in early April, has allowed our analytics team to see how consumer’s perceptions have changed between wave one and two. From the first wave to the next, we evolved survey questions to seek out a better understanding of consumer behavior to best provide strategic guidance for our clients.

Changes in consumer sentiment from April to May
As consumers are eager to get out, the collective belief that we should continue to shelter in place has decreased 12%, from 80% in April and down to 68% in just a one-month period. Although there is still uncertainty on how the consumer market will operate once this pandemic is over, this most recent study confirmed that shopping behaviors are changing and B2C business will have to adapt to new customer expectations.

As we saw in the first wave, and more apparent in this second wave, consumer sentiment is high for local and independently run business as they receive credit and praise for taking noticeable percussions to keep customers safe. Results show that 41% of local businesses received a five out of five top box rating with how well they have adjusted to keep customers safe, versus 31% when compared to national chains. We see a 10-point gap between local and national brands and a great opportunity for big brands to excel, as Phil Doriot, Market Force’s Vice President of Analytics and Insights explains, “The opportunity for national chains is to commutate the local aspect of the business using store management to create a sense of community and promoting safety procedures.”

Taking the current pulse of the restaurant industry, survey results demonstrate that 30% of dinners who chose to eat at a new Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) did so only because their first choice was not open yet. As more families are preparing food and dining at home, availability, scalability and greater satisfaction with family meals deals will represent an opportunity for QSRs and casual dining restaurants to up their game. Contrary to how diners selected a restaurant before the Coronavirus pandemic, they are now seeking out locations with less traffic and contactless food service.

Expectations and Success Drivers
Visits to grocery brands are expected to decrease 22% after the pandemic with annual visits dropping from 85 visits pre-pandemic to 60 visits during the pandemic, and 65 probable visits post-pandemic. Although trip frequency is down, the good news is basket size is up. To make the most of declined in-store visits; the report results demonstrated the following consumer success drivers: having popular items in stock, no crowding in isles and check outlines and the obvious perception that employees are following cleanliness standards.

Visits to QSR restaurants are expected to decrease 17% after the pandemic with annual visits dropping from 76 visits pre-pandemic, to 49 visits during the pandemic, and 63 probable visits post-pandemic. To make the most of declined visits; the report results demonstrated the following customer success drivers: convenient restaurant location, perceived value for the dollar, and availability of contactless food pick up.

In closing, when it comes to consumer sentiment, we find the most important factor in re-opening the economy is making sure consumers feel safe when they visit your business location. In addition to executing excellence in the overall customer experience, how the brand directs shoppers into the store, supports an organized in store experience, and executes cleaning standards will make the difference in a satisfied customer who is likely to recommend your business to others.
For more details on this study’s findings download a recording of the live webinar and please get in touch to receive the full report.

To develop the data for this report, Market Force asked survey participants to rate their last experience at a casual dining, QSR, or grocery chain and their likelihood to recommend it to others based on consumer expectations and behaviors in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Survey Demographics
The survey was conducted in May 2020 across the United States. The pool of 3,964 respondents represented a cross-section of the four Census regions and reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with 65% reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondent ages ranged from 18 to over 65 where approximately 71% were female, 28% were male, and 1% preferred not to answer.
Date: Monday, May 18, 2020

Are you ready for what comes next?

The patience of the public is waning as there are mixed opinions about how and when to re-open businesses, schools, and public recreation areas. While many feel it is still too soon, there is a growing movement to end shelter-in-place orders. With the controversy comes increasing pressure to re-open the US economy and provide the public with access and ability to work, shop, and live their lives with some semblance of normalcy.

In this environment, businesses face an enormous challenge.
The rules associated with re-opening a business are not clearly defined, and even if defined, there is no current mechanism for widespread enforcement. States, cities, and counties are making decisions on if, when, and how businesses can relaunch to get the economy back on track. Some cities remain autonomous taking re-opening matters into their own hands while electing to disregard state orders in favor of local policymaking initiatives. Much to the dismay of Governor Gavin Newsom, Huntington Beach, California hosted thousands of visitors on Saturday, April 25th.

Known data about the coronavirus suggests even small numbers of cases can quickly multiply overtaking medical capacity and increasing risk for us all. Yet from an economic and public opinion perspective, politicians and medical advisors are faced with an enormous challenge. How do they manage risk and set proper guidelines within the collective new reality? And, more importantly, how can they best convince the public to follow the rules?

What are the new rules?
Clearly, confusion is the most likely state for business leaders facing the decision of when and how to re-open. As long as federal, state, county, and city governments set their own guidelines and policies, rightfully, businesses will be confused about the rules.If you abide by pre-conditions for re-opening set by the CDC, reopening the economy is dependent on a number of factors. Factors including a decline in COVID-19 cases, increased medical capacity (in terms of beds and supplies), widely available testing, a vaccine, contact tracing, and personal measures including wearing masks and gloves, social distancing, and continued shelter-in-place for those who are at risk.

Public perception of the above-listed safety tactics has a significant impact on whether consumers have trust in the brands they visit. Research published by our ongoing Consumer Sentiment Study indicates that brands that are trusted see more visits and have a greater chance of protecting their share of consumer spending. In the current environment of reduced consumer spending, it is more important than ever to protect relationships with existing customers. Furthermore, customers are trying new brands more frequently as they seek out locations with smaller crowds, obvious safety standards, and products that are out of stock elsewhere. This presents an opportunity for a business that experiences new trials to win new market share and new loyal customers to delight again. But not all brands are prepared, and a result, not all brands are actively protecting their customer base or winning over new customers who try them for the first time.

Who owns the decision-making process regarding business operations?
Amidst conflicting guidelines imposed by the government, which version of truth should a business abide by? Do they open their doors because politicians grant permission, or because medical experts have widely declared it safe to do so?

Business leaders have important decisions to make and a massive amount of responsibility to both their employees and their customers to get it right. Adequate safety measures need to be in place so employees feel comfortable returning to customer-facing work environments and customers are not worried about virus exposure.

How are the rules monitored?
We expect that businesses that choose to re-open will do so with strict guidelines in place to ensure health and safety measures are followed. The challenge is not in setting the rules, it is in monitoring that the rules are being adhered to – unfortunately, there is no policy that can compel 100% adoption. A location monitoring and feedback system is required to manage the execution of standards and practices across locations; this is especially true for large multi-unit operators. A practice of diligence is more necessary than ever to manage safety as failures present risk as customers and employees report infractions through social media, traditional media, and even lawsuits in severe cases.

How do you ensure you are operating safely?
It can be difficult to ramp systems up to monitor standards quickly and at scale to ensure safe operations. Market Force is offering a number of brand trust services to assist businesses and local governments to manage safety standards in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For brands and government agencies that need assistance to monitor adherence to guidelines, our team is uniquely positioned to help!
Get in Touch
For government agencies looking to monitor public safety measures in the business community please contact SGriffith@MarketForce.com.

For businesses looking to monitor and manage safety measures across all locations please get in touch with BChristian@marketforce.com to schedule a briefing.

Complimentary Resources
Employee wellness study: Conduct an employee wellness study to assess employee attitudes and feelings to gain a comprehensive understanding of opportunities and concerns.

Consumer sentiment study highlights: Gain a broad-based understanding of consumer sentiment in the post COVID-19 world to inform how you operate.

Consumer Trust Audits information kit: visit all of your locations on a regular basis to monitor the execution of health and safety standards to protect employees and customers.
As a leading strategist with expertise in the design and implementation of CX solutions, Scott’s work focuses on innovation and solutions design to help Market Force clients grow sales and profits.

Protecting your brand's most important asset, your team members!

Trained and knowledgeable people are what make companies succeed – in these challenging times; do you know how your employees are doing? Employees are your most critical asset, are they able to stay productive with new stress and general concerns about their futures? Much of our workforce is currently under tremendous strain; do you believe your employees will stick around when the pandemic is over?

To help multi-location businesses find the answers to these questions, we are offering an Employee Wellness Survey to administer to their teams – free of charge! This is an opportunity to keep your finger on the pulse of employee wellness and let your most important assets, your employees, know you care about their well-being.

The Employee Wellness Survey can be implemented quickly and easily with results reported in a short time period. A one-time deployment will anonymously uncover how your employees feel about their current workload, corporate communication strategies, and their likelihood to stay with you once the pandemic passes. This data will reveal where changes and improvements need to happen to boost morale and employee loyalty and understand your people’s perceptions and potential unmet needs during this unusual period.

Based on survey design best practices, Market Force has developed a standard survey for your business and will provide the HTML link to the survey to share with your team members. Other than the time it takes to deploy the survey and review the results, there is no investment.

Once the survey is completed, you will have immediate insight into how the team is holding up. If more sophisticated insight is needed, our team of PhD statisticians and data scientists can evaluate the findings using predictive analytics to help you link the results to productivity, absenteeism, or other metrics significant to your business. And as an added bonus, by opting to leverage our Employee Wellness Survey, you will get a peek into our proprietary reporting technology, the KnowledgeForce® Platform, to review the results in real-time and see how our reporting platform works first hand.

We can help get you back on the right path for a 2020 relaunch. Get in touch to learn more!
Get in Touch
As Managing Director, Brad Christian consults multi-location businesses on optimizing the customer experience. With a focus on driving location level performance improvement in both customer loyalty and financial metrics, he helps client organizations prioritize initiatives based on their potential to deliver ROI.

Consumer Sentiment: How COVID-19 is Changing Consumer Expectations and Behavior

Market Force Information conducted a comprehensive study of consumer sentiment over the last two weeks during this COVID-19 pandemic. With precautionary government restrictions in place, we see consumer expectations and behaviors changing in real-time. To ensure we can effectively consult our multi-location clients through this challenge, we wanted to understand the new dynamics of the marketplace. As expectations and behaviors are likely to last well past the current crisis, insights learned from this study are important to take note of as brands re-engineer their 2020 plan.

Between April 6 and 8, we surveyed almost 4,000 consumers across the United States and asked them about their restaurant and retail experiences along with their perceptions of how local and federal governments are doing in response to the spread of Coronavirus.

The most notable findings of this study centered on restaurant perceptions, as we learned that 21% of our respondents visited a new restaurant in the last two weeks. Of those diners, over half (52%) visited a new restaurant based on the availability of drive-thru service. While over 90% of these consumers are preparing meals at home more frequently, they do run out of ideas or food at home and eventually venture out for something different to eat. In light of the current situation, it is no surprise that many diners chose a restaurant with a drive-thru option.

The second driver for going to a new restaurant is the convenience of a carry-out or curbside pick-up with 32% of respondents indicating the availability of this service is was what led them to try a new restaurant option. Great news for brands pivoting operations in the moment to optimize this service channel and likely the main topic of discussion for brands who have not yet developed this service channel before the crisis hit. A client shared how proud they were of their operators as they implemented this service on the fly – from order ahead technology to packaging and distributing food orders. However, they acknowledged that they now need to develop an operational process and curbside pick-up best practices to share with all franchise locations.

The survey result that struck me as counter-intuitive to thoughts we might have had about the restaurant industry pre-pandemic, was the fact that 21% of diners chose a new restaurant for the first time because it was less crowded, an interesting observation. Outside of long wait times, diners tend to choose restaurants that are popular and are crowded, suggesting that we succeeded at picking a hotspot as we satisfy our desire for social interaction. As we learn that a new driver of consumer behavior when selecting a restaurant is the appearance of fewer people, the insight gained from this data speaks to a possible forced decline in dining room traffic once restaurants open back up.

Three key considerations as restaurants navigate the next several weeks or months is

1.) How to best support curbside pick-up orders, as this service channel will likely be a significant service option,

2.) How to manage spatial distancing for team members, and

3.) How best to manage the space between tables and guests for dine-in seating.

To learn more on these findings please get in touch or, click below to download the webinar overview of the study.
Download Webinar Recording
As Managing Director, Brad Christian consults multi-location businesses on optimizing the customer experience. With a focus on driving location level performance improvement in both customer loyalty and financial metrics, he helps client organizations prioritize initiatives based on their potential to deliver ROI.


Schedule a Briefing

To discuss your needs for improving performance for your multi-location brand, give us a call. We’d be happy to discuss best practices for measuring the customer experience and compliance to brand standards, using analytics to understand what matters most and the ROI for change, and technology solutions that integrate large quantities of data on one single platform. We look forward to a great discussion!

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