Discount Stores’ Popularity on the Rise

Nudged along by retailers’ promotional activities, consumers are increasingly gravitating toward discount stores, according to a Harris Poll released this week.

An opening question in the poll (fielded last month) asked respondents how often they shop at some different sorts of retailers. Thirty-three percent said they shop “very frequently” and 36 percent “frequently” at discount retailers. The numbers were drastically lower for mid-tier department stores (5 percent “very frequently,” 19 percent “frequently”) and for top-tier department stores (1 percent “very frequently,” 7 percent “frequently”).

And that skew is likely to grow more pronounced, to judge by another of the survey’s findings. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said that, “because of sales, coupons, promotions and other discounts,” they’re more likely to consider shopping at discount stores in the next year. That includes 15 percent saying they’re “much more likely” to do so.

By contrast, just 18 percent said they’re more likely (including 5 percent “much more”) to consider shopping at mid-tier department stores because of those factors. And the figures were lower still for top-tier department stores (9 percent more likely, including 3 percent “much more”).

A related question asked respondents how often they expect to shop at different kinds of stores (aside from grocery shopping) in the coming year. Eighteen percent said they expect to shop more often at discount stores, vs. 7 percent saying they’ll do so at mid-tier department stores and 4 percent at top-tier department stores. Nine 9 percent said they’ll shop less often at discount stores, vs. 21 percent at mid-tier department stores and 32 percent at top-tier department stores.

It’s not that consumers are oblivious to the efforts department stores have made to lure them with bargains. Forty-nine percent said they think mid-tier department stores have, compared to last year, been offering more “sales, coupons, promotions and other discounts to attract shoppers.” That tops the number (44 percent) saying the same about discount stores. Thirty-five percent said they’ve noticed top-tier department stores making more such efforts.

But it’s not clear that these ploys have done the department stores much good in consumers’ eyes. Thirty-nine percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “There’s not as much difference between discount stores and mid-tier department stores as there used to be.” Twenty-six percent disagreed, and the rest neither agreed nor disagreed. Similarly, respondents were a bit more likely to agree than to disagree (26 percent vs. 24 percent) that “Top-tier department stores have diminished the status level of their brand.”