What is the Difference Between a Supermarket and a Grocery?

As a savvy buyer, you probably know where to find items on your weekly or daily shopping list. You might even say that you know the selection in your favorite retail store like the back of your hand. Perhaps you prefer ordering items online from an eGrocery store to minimize the hassle of regular trips to brick-and-mortar outlets. Nonetheless, differentiating between a supermarket and a grocery often stumps some of us. Can you keep using the terms interchangeably? Let me walk you through the distinctive features of both.

A Step Back in Time

Between the supermarket and the grocery, which came first? A walk down memory lane shows that groceries have been around much longer. At their inception, grocery stores sold various food products and differed from specialty shops that offered bread, meat, and other items.

The striking quality of groceries around 1916 (sounds like stone-age to some of us!) was that customers would hand a list of items they needed to a grocer who would retrieve and bag the products behind a counter. A few years down the line, the ‘super market’ came up in which larger stores popped up across the US.

The emergence of supermarkets offered customers the freedom to pick and choose the products they needed, fill their baskets, and make payments. Consequently, many independently owned groceries had to close shop as supermarkets became more popular. What qualities distinguish supermarkets from groceries today?

Store Selection

A grocery’s main intention is to fulfill your basic needs. Food, drinks, vegetables, and some household essentials come to mind in this regard. Some groceries may offer other options such as gluten-free foods, but essentially, the idea is the same.

On the other hand, a supermarket allocates more space to different items. We might say that a supermarket is an extension of a grocery because the former provides food items and other product categories.

Let’s break it down a little further and put it this way. Can you buy an assortment of organic food items, clothing, electric appliances, toiletry, and kitchen accessories in the same building? That means you’re shopping in a supermarket.

A supermarket could also have coffee bars, a bank, and other specialty departments catering to the needs of consumers in a given niche. Simply put, think about the variety the store offers to determine whether it’s a supermarket or a grocery.

Size Matters

Stocking up on various unrelated items and in large quantities requires vast space. Given that a supermarket maintains a large inventory of different products, it’s clear that size does matter.

Similarly, to provide a wider selection of items, supermarket owners need to invest in larger shopping spaces. Conversely, a grocery may not require an expansive area to stock up due to its limited product range. In a traditional grocery store where an assistant behind the counter may provide the goods a customer requires, the need for extra space may be counter-intuitive.

Separate Departments

Supermarkets usually organize items in departments or aisles if you like. Whenever you walk into a supermarket, something is likely to strike you: the numbering of the aisles or labeling indicating the specific category of goods stocked there.

Conversely, grocery stores may have aisles, but these usually stock similar or related products. These could include sections stocking fresh meat, dry food products, dairy, fruits and vegetables, bread and other baked goods, spices, canned foods, cereal, and frozen foods. Some groceries may include aisles stocking cleaning products in addition to food items, but that’s about it.


In a grocery, you may need a store hand to bag your supplies or measure the quantities of cereal or meat you need before heading to the checkout counter. As such, self-service may work in a grocery, but it’s not always the most viable option.

Supermarkets have revolutionized the customer experience by allowing you to shop more conveniently without the need to interact with store hands or owners. Grab a basket or wheel a cart into the supermarket, and in no time, you have all you need. The addition of concepts such as self-checkout has also made it easier to shop in a supermarket.

Discount Pricing

Groceries tend to be small and contained in that they do not offer much beyond food and drink. Such stores would have to overstock to deliver lower prices, which poses many risks due to the nature of products they offer.

Supermarkets don’t have to grapple with such risks as they sell a wide array of items. By buying in bulk, they can stock up on products and avail discounts in attempts to entice customers into their premises.

Chain Marketing

Some supermarkets are part of a chain of stores, which gives them the edge over grocery stores. Such supermarket chains can save on transport costs by sharing distributors and other resources. The management of such stores also tends to be different from independently run enterprises.

Independent ownership of a grocery store may affect the running of the enterprise. In such a setup, it’s upon the owner to determine how best to run their store, while a chain-owned supermarket relies on decisions from higher-ups for normal day-to-day operations.

Volume Dealing

The perishable nature of some food products also compels groceries to maintain limited stocks to cater to the immediate needs of their customers. Why? Stocking up on perishable products could lead to wastage and loss, something a grocery could ill-afford. A supermarket can maintain an expansive assortment of products without such concerns.

Ordering inventory in bulk provides economies of scale to supermarkets, reflecting lower costs that they can pass over to customers. Supermarkets are experts in mass merchandising- selling higher volumes to consumers. Although a supermarket generates a lower-profit margin through this approach, the profits add up eventually.

Volume dealing may not work as well in a grocery setup due to the perishable nature of their products. As a result, products are available to customers on an as-needed basis.

One-stop Shopping

Supposing you need to shop from scratch for a new home. Your shopping list may include furniture, kitchen appliances, food items, toiletries, kids’ toys, cleaning supplies, electronics, homeware essentials, or tools. Would you find all of these items in a grocery store? Not a chance.

Most supermarkets offer the convenience of one-stop shopping, whereby you can find all the essentials and extras you need under one roof. As a result, shopping at a supermarket reduces the hassle of buying items for different stores.

Piecing Everything Together

We can’t authoritatively say that a grocery and supermarket are entirely unrelated and different. They do share some aspects. It’s also indisputable that a supermarket sells food items and other products. Thus, a supermarket is like a more diverse version of a grocery. However, the gist of the matter is that fundamental differences exist between the two.

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