Supermarket Social Scenes

Discussion
Mar 22, 2011
George Anderson

Some day a couple is going to tell their kids about how
they met … at Kroger, Safeway or Wegmans. It may not be an entirely
new phenomenon, but singles, at least in places where there are high concentrations
of them, are finding that the supermarket is the place to find a date, if not
a life-long partner.

Among the stores that have gotten attention for doubling
as places to find dates are the "Social" Safeway in Washington, D.C.,
a (Club) Wegmans in Prince George County and the Brewers Yard Kroger in Ohio.

A Washington
Post
report last month described the scene at the Wegmans
store.

"Singles hook up in front of bins of fresh produce; couples gather
for dates in the grocery store’s sit-down restaurant; and shoppers sway to
music from overhead speakers, singing along with Prince, Luther Vandross and
Teena Marie."

Elizabeth Ribarsky, a professor at interpersonal communications
at the University of Illinois in Springfield, told the Post grocery
stores are good places to meet for singles because they feel safer in familiar
surroundings.

"There is a lot of opportunity to open conversations without things that
you would think of as a pickup line," said Prof. Ribarsky. She pointed
to finding common likes in food as a means to start up a conversation.

Supermarkets,
however, are not just for singles. The Brewers Yard Kroger has proven to be
a good place for couples to hang out, as well. A Columbus Dispatch article
pointed to how Ian and Katherine Nickey went to the store to go shopping one
Friday night, but stayed to hear live music in the store’s bar. The two have
gone back on other occasions since their first trip.

"For us, it’s a convenience, and it makes the shopping fun. It’s a great
concept," Mr. Nickey said.

"A lot of our regular customers use the opportunity to pick up their groceries
but also take time to sit down, enjoy music, spend time with friends and enjoy
their Kroger family," Amy McCormick, a spokesperson for the chain, told
the Dispatch. "The store is designed for that offering and to be
a gathering place for customers to come in and let us entertain them.

"We’re more than happy to have 80-plus people who want to spend their
Friday nights at Kroger," she said.

Lee Peterson, executive vice president
of creative services at WD Partners and a RetailWire BrainTrust member, told
the Dispatch that grocers are
looking for effective ways to differentiate their offering from the competition.

"The pressure on traditional grocers is immense," Mr. Peterson said. "They’ve
got price pressure from Walmart, Walgreens and dollar stores. And then pressure
from specialty stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe, which specialize in
offering consumers an ‘experience’ when they shop."

Discussion Questions: Will we see more supermarkets play up the social aspect of the shopping experience to try and build deeper connections with consumers? What are the up and downsides to social shopping environments and how should stores approach marketing this difference to consumers?

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16 Comments on "Supermarket Social Scenes"


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Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 1 month ago

I don’t think “singles nights” at supermarkets are anything new, they are one of the few female-friendly retail environments where large amounts of single men can be found. (I will avoid obvious “meat market” puns.) It will be interesting to see if/how supermarkets use social networking, mobile apps, etc., to expand efforts at bringing singles together over food shopping.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

There have been anecdotal stories of singles meeting this way for decades. If it works, and actually helps a store, I’d say it’s fortuitous and to just go with it. But your priorities are out of whack if you spend much effort trying to make this happen, what with all the other challenges supermarkets face today. Let’s just say that it would not be near the top of my list as a key market differentiator.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 1 month ago

It has long been my contention that it is time to reinvent the supermarket. The creation of Social Shopping Networks is just one more opportunity for supermarkets to do so.

Wish I was still innovatively active in food retailing!

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

This really is an old idea come around again. I remember when some Piggly Wigglys had Singles Nights and the occasional wedding in Aisle Six.

Truth is, people will hook up wherever they find themselves and many of them still seem to find themselves in their neighborhood stores.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
10 years 1 month ago

You’re right. It’s not a new idea. But it is part of what supermarkets need to provide and that is a more compelling shopping experience for all groups. I would suggest taking this a bit further. Promote the store not just as a meeting place but a learning place. If you have singles on Friday night make sure there are a couple of chef demos going on that promote products as well as interaction between people. If things work out, you can cater the wedding.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

It certainly true this has been going on for a long time. I have to admit I sort of met my wife at the supermarket I worked in while in high school. Sort of because first I met her parents (not knowing of course that they would be my in-laws). The social trail continued as I first noticed my future wife at the coffee shop next door when I when there to buy coffees for our break one evening.

All that being said, I agree with Mr. Thayer that while social interactions do happen in supermarkets, it would not be the basis of differentiation for my store/chain from others in the marketplace. I don’t see the supermarket replacing the local nightclub as the center of social interaction.

Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

I’ve long teased my wife that if (when?) she tosses me out I’ll simply go hang out at Whole Foods to meet women. There is a natural, comfortable and familiar environment for people to meet.

More importantly, the issue is how supermarkets need to differentiate themselves. It’s a good thing that people NEED to buy groceries because the experience in most grocery stores is completely boring and predictable. If it takes music, wine and fun to make the store stand out, then so be it.

Do I advocate that grocery stores should find and execute a ‘meet and greet’ strategy? No. But they need to do something to stand out … fast!

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

This article was written as if it were a new idea and someone just found that “aha moment.” Singles meeting in the grocery store is generations old already so why are we taking it as something new?

I can not see grocers dedicating expensive space to a singles lounge. There has to be a ROI on the space availability. Singles meeting to hook up will not cut it.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Most research says that the majority of people do not like grocery shopping. For a long time we have been saying that retailers need to examine the shopping experience and make it attractive to consumers. One approach will not work everywhere. Experimenting and testing new approaches should be encouraged. Maybe these examples of success will spur more experimentation.

Chuck Palmer
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Grocery should think about their stores the way department stores have and some of the better specialty stores do. Think about coordinated make-over events in the department store cosmetics department and how companies like Lululemon connect with their (yoga-centric) communities supporting causes and events and holding in-store classes.

Think about how much time and money we spend at grocery stores. Not everyone wants to hang out, but these places, and specific locations, can provide shared experiences that their customers enjoy and will share with others.

They should absolutely be leveraging social media tools to create buzz, draw attendees and enhance the value of shopping there versus elsewhere.

Graeme Spicer
Guest
Graeme Spicer
10 years 1 month ago

Marketers have long wanted to create “third places”–places where we all congregate when we’re not at home or at the place we work. Howard Schultz recognized the value in this idea when he expanded Starbucks into ubiquity. Grocery stores are also a natural place for people to gather–a non-threatening environment, equally accessible for women and men, and sharing a common bond over a part of our lives where there is usually little reason for disagreement or judgment.

First bars. Then coffee shops. Now grocery stores. Why not?

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 1 month ago
When I worked in Saudi Arabia in the ’90s, most marriages were arranged, since the law (The “Muttawa,” religious police are always lurking) prohibited a person talking to the opposite sex in public unless they were a relative. Prior to the internet arriving late in the decade, the most popular, yet covert method of meeting the opposite sex outside the family was the following: 1) You’re a woman in a supermarket, 2) You are walking down an aisle and you see a good-looking man, 3) You “flash” your “abbeya” or “hijab” (literally curtain or veil) as you push your cart past him, 4) You pass again in the next aisle, and if he thinks you’re pretty, he drops his phone number on a card into your cart. There has been love in bloom in supermarkets for decades. If a retailer wants to take a proactive response to the trend…go for it! We are losing the lively art of face-to-face conversation with social media. Let’s get back to “Social Pedia,” the “encyclopedia” of how to make… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

“Had an old man tell me ‘Boy if you were smart
you’d hit the produce aisle at the Super Walmart'”
– Joe Nichols
Yes this an old, old idea (the Marina Safeway was always famous as a “meet market”); and while I don’t think grocers object to this–as long, of course, as it doesn’t interfere with the actual business of selling groceries–I don’t see them actually promoting it…some of the more outre suggestions (bars, lounges, single’s nights) I don’t see happening.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

As someone who makes a living going into supermarkets, I can tell you for men, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Best places are stores near hospitals right after the 3 pm and 11 pm shifts. Most stores won’t be holding events at that time so I would suggest to men try these off hours so there is less competition.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
10 years 1 month ago

By the hospital is one place if you are looking for ripe casabas. However, I just got off of a plane where the flight attendant sang and ended the song with “Marry me and you’ll fly free.” Think of all the money you could save.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 1 month ago

Offering enough space for consumers to sit down, have dinner, listen to music, etc., is not possible for most supermarkets. Real estate is just too expensive.

However, when it’s feasible, encouraging “coffee clubs,” “mom lunches with ideas for kids,” “single’s soups,” cooking classes, demo stations, wine tastings, and store tours all make sense. Creative marketing can increase sales and the store atmosphere as well.

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