TIME Smart Spending

There’s a Good Chance You Dumped Your Supermarket Last Year

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Long waits, dirty stores, and, most importantly, high prices are among the reasons so many consumers are breaking up with their once-steady supermarkets.

In a recent survey conducted by Consumer Reports, one-third of subscribers said that they stopped shopping at a nearby grocery store last year. By far, the biggest reason cited for the breakup was the store was just plain too expensive. Year after year in this survey, 20% to 30% of shoppers have said that they’ve given up on a supermarket due to poor selection or quality, long checkout waits, or a general lack of cleanliness. This year, however, there was a significant rise in consumers pointing to exorbitant prices as a reason for dumping a store, named by 58% of those surveyed, compared to 43% in 2011.

Certainly, the increasingly fierce competition for grocery shoppers being fought not only by traditional supermarkets but warehouse clubs, drugstore chains, and dollar stores as well, combined with rising prices for meat and other grocery staples, are among the factors causing consumers to jump ship to a new, likely cheaper shopping outlet.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, tended to give Consumer Reports’ readers the most reasons to shop elsewhere. Walmart finished dead last in the ratings among 55 supermarkets. Roughly 80% of the Walmart shoppers surveyed said they had at least one complaint about their experience, compared to 56% of shoppers overall citing at least one gripe with their grocery store. Whereas 19% of all consumers complained about not enough checkout lines being opened at supermarkets, 53% of Walmart shoppers said the number of checkouts wasn’t up to snuff. Likewise, 27% of Walmart shoppers complained about basic items being out of stock, compared to just 6% of everyone surveyed.

Of course, most people shop at Walmart because of its “everyday low prices,” and for many, the prospect of saving money outweighs the downsides. But CR readers claim that 14 of the top 20 grocery chains have prices on par with Walmart, including Costco and Trader Joe’s—two chains that also get consistently high customer ratings in terms of quality and service.

(MORE: Meet the Low-Key, Low-Cost Grocery Chain Being Called ‘Wal-Mart’s Worst Nightmare’)

And if it’s truly the cheapest of cheap prices you’re after, the cheapskates at Cheapism just published a grocery price-comparison showdown, pitting Walmart against traditional supermarket Kroger and Aldi, a sister brand of Trader Joe’s that sells almost no national brands. Secret shoppers rounded up a basket of 37 standard grocery items (though not necessarily the same brands), and Aldi was named the cheap champ, with a total bill that was 15% less than Walmart and 23% less than Kroger.

This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise: In previous surveys, Aldi has come out on top as shoppers’ favorite low-cost grocery store. Mind you, there are tradeoffs to shopping at a place like Aldi, starting with the absence of brands you’d recognize, and continuing on to its small stores and small selection, as well as policies that some find a turnoff, including no coupons and no credit cards accepted.

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