What comforts are essential?

Example of an American grocery store aisle.
Image via Wikipedia

I just returned from my weekly jaunt to the grocery store. I know what you are thinking; who cares? After my usual trek through the wide, yet crowded aisles at Winco Foods, I bagged my purchases in recyclable bags (I try to be environmentally conscious) and headed out the door.

There is a reason for this meandering story

The other night in business strategy class, we discussed different business leadership strategies. Porter generic strategy suggests in order to gain a competitive advantage, a company must either differentiate itself or be a low cost leader. Winco has definitely approached the marketplace in the latter choice.

This journey to Winco was not much different than last week’s, but something triggered in my head. I perused the aisles with a more watchful eye. What did the produce look like How were the cans stacked? How many shoppers were in line and for how long before he/she checked out? What was up with all of the elderly couples shopping together and other seemingly trivial facts?

Can we survive without all the frills?

What is it worth to have your grocery bags filled for you at the checkout? Why does it matter if all the cans or boxes are facing the same way and stacked perfectly? Do you care if meat comes prepackaged rather than chopped up in the back by a butcher?

To me, and countless others who value-shop for groceries, clothes, cars, and other sundries, these luxuries are unimportant and useless. I actually prefer bagging my groceries. The checkers are friendly but efficient. The floors and shelves are clean and parking is no problem. I am not a coupon shopper (too lazy), but I don’t want to pay for extra frills.

Now for the differentiated model (ooh, I know you can’t wait)

Food shopping at Whole Foods is an entirely different world than Winco Foods. The produce is ripe and beautiful and I just love the gluten-free area as well as the deli and salad bar. Just thinking about it is making me hungry. They have every type of tea imaginable and exotic nut butters galore.

What is so special about Whole Foods that we are willing to pay a greater fee? Last week I bought bulk quinoa at Winco. Never did I think Winco would carry unusual grains. The reality is when I consider strange or hard to find items, Whole Foods is where I begin searching.

Whole Foods is effective at differentiating its brand as an organic health food heaven. Carts are much smaller because most people can’t afford to fill it like they would at a value store. Gone are the buzzing fluorescent light fixtures found in lesser stores.

Lesson learned: you can’t be everything to everyone.

Both brands of grocery stores are great examples of Michael Porter‘s theory of competitive advantage. Neither brand took the middle road and they are both experts in their niches. I can’t say that one is better or worse than the other. They are equally valuable to customers.

What brand do you identify with when shopping? Do you prefer being pampered and feeling extravagant as you shop for broccoli? Is bulk the way you roll? Share your thoughts on what comforts you cannot live without.

2 thoughts on “What comforts are essential?

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