Survey says – stores clean, service and perishables could be better

Consumer Reports readers who shop at Target gave the company middle-of-the-road marks on service and its perishable offerings, but the company scored better on pricing and received the highest marks possible on cleanliness.

Target ranked 22nd out of 52 grocers rated in the May issue of Consumer Reports, which featured a cover story “Your Supermarket: Are You Paying Too Much?” It is a ridiculous question to begin with given the low margins, intense competition and pervasive structural issues present in the food industry where conventional operators are squeezed between organized labor expenses pressures on one side and the inability to pass through product cost inflation on the other. Nonetheless Consumer Reports persists in dissecting the food industry as if it is some grand scheme to defraud shoppers and provides readers with such elementary advice as buy private label to save money, or avoid merchandise that may not be on sale despite placement on endcaps or try self-checkout to avoid long lines.

As for Target’s ranking in the survey of readers, it is impressive, but the results should be taken with a grain of salt as is the case with all Consumer Reports surveys where results are based on readers’ opinions. That Target scored as well as it did is impressive because the results are based on store visits between April 2010 and April 2011. The age of the data means Target had fresh groceries in about 400 to 700 fewer stores than it does today when the survey was conducted. So ranking ahead of such traditional grocers as Kroger, Vons, Albertsons, Stop & Shop and Jewel-Osco is a noteworthy accomplishment.

However, and it is a big however, the result must be taken with a grain of salt because they are arrived at by using a flawed methodology that doesn’t present a true picture of shoppers’ attitudes. Consumer Reports surveys only its readers so there is a bias inherent in the findings and the publication doesn’t elaborate on the demographics of its readers or the actual survey respondents. Further diminishing the value of the data is the fact that a footnote indicates scoring differences of five points are not meaningful. Target scored 78, while top ranked Wegmans scored 88 and bottom ranked Pathmark scored 68. Target wasn’t within five points of either of those companies, but of the 52 companies included in the survey, it was within five points of 40 others including 17 ranked within five points on the upside and 23 ranked within five points on the downside.