Store Loyalty in a Down Economy

I am not brand loyal, save for a very few specific products that, through trial and error, I have determined that only one brand best suits my needs. Generally I could care less who makes something as long as the quality, features, taste and/or price suit my needs. However, I have discovered that I am something of a store snob. I may not care who made the product, but I have noticed in recent months that I do tend to care very much where I buy something.

I’ve suspected this for a while, but this weekend a Christmas-related shopping trip brought it to the fore. The Spousal Unit and I went shopping for the DVD player that our niece wants for Christmas. We hit several stores and found the best price in Store A. Store B had the second best price. I didn’t want to buy it at Store A because I rarely shop there and I didn’t feel comfortable there. Just sort of an “off” feeling, I guess you’d call it. It’s not a very clean store and the employees tend to be a bit rude. I wanted to buy it from Store B because their employees are always nice, the store is always clean and well lit, and I just feel comfortable when I’m in there. Store B gives me warm fuzzies, you could say.

Of course my husband thought I was nuts. “This is the cheapest we’ve found. Let’s just get it and get out.” I hemmed and hawed but finally gave in. It wasn’t the end of the world but I realized I was a store snob. I didn’t want a store that I found inferior to have my money.

This isn’t to say that I only shop at high end stores. The sort of store loyalty I’m speaking of doesn’t have anything to do with brand names or whether a carries a certain cachet. I’ve discovered that I’m loyal to all kinds of stores. I’m loyal to certain electronics stores, department stores, book stores, online stores, and even dollar and drug stores. This discovery surprises me because I’ve always thought of myself as a smart shopper who looks for the best deal. And that’s true, but only to a point.

For example, if I’m looking for an electronics product, I have a set of electronics/big box stores that I will check and then buy from the one that has the best price out of that set. Very rarely will I venture beyond that set of stores to purchase an item. It’s even worse online. I have a very few retailers that I trust with my information online and I will only shop from that set. Even if someone else has a great deal, it’s very difficult to get me to buy from them. (Which, incidentally, explains why I never shop on eBay. I have too many trust issues and too much store snobbery to shop there.)

After this weekend’s trip, I started wondering how this sort of loyalty came about. I mean, the DVD player is exactly the same, regardless of whether it’s purchased at Store A or Store B. The end result is the same so why wasn’t I willing to save a little extra money and buy it from the cheapest place?

I figure that loyalty (at least for me) starts with a very good experience. Maybe I had a problem and got a speedy resolution. Maybe I was desperate for something one day and someone at the store went out of their way to help me. Maybe I wandered in off the street one day just to browse and found the place to be clean and neat and the merchandise well priced. One good experience sows the seed for my loyalty. From there I am wooed by a store that is consistently clean, organized, and has helpful, knowledgeable employees. Good customer service is huge with me. I will go with a store that I know provides good customer service over an unknown entity every time. I’m also wooed by a store that doesn’t abuse me by sending me tons of unwanted emails or offers. In a way, I see my patronage (and my money) as the store’s “reward” for being good to me.

This is all well and good, but I have found myself wondering this week if I need to rethink my loyalty in a down economy. I really like to save money these days. With the holidays coming, maybe I should simply chase the lowest price and let loyalty go hang. Maybe it’s time for me to branch out and find some new stores that compete on price, rather than sticking with the tried and true. Maybe I can deal with a less than ideal shopping experience in exchange for a great deal. This is particularly true online where many times I’ve passed over a deal because it wasn’t offered by a “known quantity.” Maybe in a down economy I should “reward” those stores that are willing to compete on price.

After thinking about this for awhile I’ve decided to stick with the stores that I know and trust. A good price is great, but it can only go so far. If there is a problem or an order is messed up, a good price isn’t going to make me feel any better when I’m trying to chase down a non-existent customer service person. A good price doesn’t help me find the product in a messy store. A good price is no deal if a shady online merchant steals or sells my personal information. Even in a down economy, I would rather give my money to a store that is trustworthy and proven than to one that is inferior. Even if I have to pay a bit more for the product.

A low price is great, but I’ve learned that, for me, it’s only one part of the shopping equation. I want to feel valued as a customer and have a pleasant shopping experience. It’s no deal to me if I’m miserable or worried about my shopping experience. Being price conscious is great, but I prefer to be price conscious while also being store loyal. Because I’m not brand loyal this sort of shopping is a little easier. I still have a lot of choices of brands on which to save money, even if the number of stores I’m willing to shop is limited. I realize my savings options would be greater if I were not loyal to any brands or stores, but I’m apparently not built that way. And that’s okay. A penny saved is not worth a dollar of hassle to me.

So what about you? Are you store loyal? Are you more or less so now that the economy has tanked? Share your thoughts on store loyalty in a down economy. I’d love to hear them.

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5 Responses to Store Loyalty in a Down Economy

  1. familyof8 says:

    I find I am shopping more often at local owned stores now than the big chains. Even when it costs a few more dollars, I feel like our “local economy” is more important.

  2. As far as groceries, it is supreme habit that gets me back to the same store, even within the same chain.

    Why? I know where things are and can get in and out with less time and effort. I shop their sales and coupons anyway.

    How disconcerting to go to a different grocery and everything is in a different place. UGH.

  3. Molly's mum says:

    I’m a total store snob, and like you, it’s not about high end stores, or the best price. Like familyof8, I’m biased toward the locally owned stores. The more of my money that stays in my community, the better, as far as I’m concerned. I avoid big box stores like the plague, for many reasons.

    I like that feeling of being a “regular” somewhere; or, at least, of it mattering to someone that we’re there to support their business and make a purchase.

    Almost every dollar I spend goes to a locally owned business — restaurants, clothing and other purchases, and groceries to whatever extent that’s possible. So yes, I’m a store snob.

  4. lizajane says:

    I usually stick with a combination. The big box store will match sale prices from the local grocery stores, but I prefer to buy in those cases from the local store that advertised the price to begin with. Now, I might go ahead and purchase other items that are on my list from the big box store because they are cheaper there, so I’m not really being loyal to the local store.

  5. Carol says:

    I think providing reasonable prices that fit consumers needs in this devastating economy is the ultimate form of “customer service”. I have stopped shopping at my usual grocery store, even though it has wonderful employees and just beautifully remodeled everything because the prices are just too high (almost $8 for a 5lb bag of apples! Not organic either.)

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