( Photo by The Packer staff )

Why do you go to the grocery store you go to?

inMarket recently released a report that declared Fry’s Food and Drug, Giant Eagle, Ralphs, Publix and Smith’s Food and Drug some of the grocery chains with the highest loyalty. Those results were based on location data from hundreds of apps, a wealth of information that allowed inMarket to figure out trip frequency for different retailers.

The report started me wondering about the “why” behind those trips. What are the characteristics of grocery stores that keep us coming back?

As you might imagine, the answers vary widely. Here are a few I’ve heard from folks recently:

  • It’s close to where I live.
  • We use the loyalty card and get discounts on gas.
  • Their store brand products are awesome.
  • It’s less expensive than other stores.
  • The people who work there are friendly.

The first item on this list is probably the most influential in how a shopper chooses his or her regular grocery store, but the last item on the list is probably the most essential to the reputation of a retailer.

Another ranking that came out recently, from Newsweek, featured retailers that were voted best in customer service.

Publix, ShopRite and Trader’s Joe were named in the supermarket category. Both Publix and ShopRite were also ranked in the top 15 for shopper loyalty in the inMarket report.

I know you’re not surprised at the overlap.

One quick anecdote from another industry about the power of customer service: When I heard about the Newsweek report, one of my first thoughts was that Chick-fil-A would definitely score well in such an evaluation.

Sure enough, Newsweek had also gathered feedback about customer service at fast-food restaurants, and Chick-fil-A landed the top spot by a wide margin.

And not surprisingly, the company is dominating in general. Plenty of people like their food, but the brand has a more prominent presence than it would otherwise because its employees treat people well.

It’s hard to overstate the value of a positive interaction in a place of business — not just a neutral interaction, but an uplifting one.

I had not thought much about my expectations for the employees at the grocery store I frequent because my experiences at the store had all been so good that I’d mostly taken them for granted. But yesterday I went by for a quick fill-in trip, and the young man at the register mostly ignored me as he talked to an employee at the next check-out station.

I was surprised by that action, but mostly I was surprised by how much it surprised me, and I was surprised at how much it mattered.

Even as an avid online grocery shopper, I value a great in-store experience. Clearly, most other shoppers do as well.

Ashley Nickle is editor of Produce Retailer magazine. E-mail her at [email protected].