What’s the Difference Between a Grocery Store & a Supermarket?


Well, I did some research, and here’s what I found out:

The terms supermarket & grocery store are used interchangeably. However, a grocery store is more specialized and not as large as a supermarket. Supermarkets have lots of choices, counters with butchers & fresh seafood, but grocery stores are usually more focused on a specific category of food or targeted demographic.

But there’s much more to know about the differences in these two terms. There are even more terms to know – like superstore.

What is a “superstore,” you ask?

Just keep reading to find out!

What is a supermarket example?

A supermarket is a type of grocery store that is typically larger in scale and carries a wider selection of items. They are almost the same thing, but supermarkets are usually very large.

Even so, most people say, “I’m going to run up to the grocery store to pick up a few things.” Even if they’re going to a supermarket. Or they may even just say they are going to the store or simply the store’s name, like Kroger or Fred Meyer’s.

Americans do most of our shopping in supermarkets, even though we typically call them grocery stores in everyday speech.

Supermarkets tend to have a wide selection.

Some of the best-known examples of supermarkets include:

  • Safeway
  • Kroger
  • Publix

You can spend days wandering around the store trying to decide what kind of jam or jelly to purchase. Even with so many choices, you may not be able to find everything you need. Thus, you may need to go to a smaller, more specialized grocery store that caters to specific cuisines or offer special ingredients.

For example, if you want to make an authentic Mexican dish, and you need fresh chorizo, you are more likely to find it at a small Mexican grocery store.

Supermarkets also have a lot more departments than a grocery store

They may have:

  • An in-house butcher
  • Floral department
  • Even a pharmacy

There are a lot of different departments and sections to both grocery stores and supermarkets.

In this recent article, I break them all down with a little insider insight to each one and why they get divided up that way.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Whole Food Market is a supermarket, but it has that grocery store feel. That’s not by accident, either.

Whole Foods originally opened as a way to bridge the gap between tiny, sometimes dirty and poorly-run health food stores and mainstream supermarkets.

At the time, you couldn’t find healthy, organic food in supermarkets.

While you could find organic food at grocery stores, they were often one of many stops. These grocery stores could also be expensive and sometimes unpleasant to shop in.

These are just a few of the reasons why Whole Foods is such a popular supermarket.

To read more about the success of Whole Foods, and the reason they are so popular, just read this recent article. Since I worked there for more than 2 decades, having started at the very 1st location, I know a thing or 2 about it!

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What is a grocery store considered?

A grocery store is typically a smaller and more specialized store.

Continuing my Mexican grocery store example, you’ll be able to find chorizo, but they won’t have a pharmacy. They don’t sell the more general retail items like towels or bed sheets.

They only sell groceries. And included with that may be a meat department, produce department, a deli, or a bakery.

A grocery store would be more of the smaller “mom and pop” type stores. They have fewer employees and not near as many departments.

They’re also not typically chain stores, or if they are a chain, it’s a small chain with just a handful of stores as opposed to a nationwide chain.

Both a grocery store and a supermarket can be called a grocery store, but only one can be called a supermarket.

Grocery stores store sell most types of food and daily needed items. They’re often privately owned and operated. Whereas a supermarket that is part of a chain is usually very large and may offer many choices and brands.

The smaller grocery stores may offer only one or two brands of toilet paper and beans.

There’s usually a price difference between chain stores and private stores, too.  Larger chain stores may sell cheaper items than small stores.

Supermarkets and grocery stores make their money by selling high volumes of inventory. Grocery stores simply don’t get the foot traffic that supermarkets do, so they have to sell their merchandise at a higher markup to be profitable.

You may find that grocery stores don’t have as many sales as supermarkets, either.

Grocery stores often have sales to get rid of excess inventory or items that are out-of-season. Because grocery stores just don’t have as much inventory as their “super” counterparts, their sales may be few and far between.

To read more about why grocery stores have sales, read this recent article.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Walmart a supermarket?

It would seem logical to call Walmart a supermarket, but alas, Walmart is actually a superstore.

I know – another confusing term to know.

A superstore is a retail store, like a grocery store or bookstore, with a wide variety of product lines and a very large amount of space.

So what’s the difference between a supermarket and a superstore?

A supermarket sells mainly food. They will have fresh food departments, like produce, meat, deli, bakery, and even a floral department.

They may sell non-food items like health and beauty care, pet food, and household cleaning supplies. Their primary focus, however, is food.

A superstore will have a grocery section that sells these items, but they will also have other departments. These departments may include:

  • Clothing
  • Home decor
  • Gardening
  • Automotive department

In a superstore, food is not the focus. It’s just another department within the store. 

If a superstore isn’t really a grocery store or supermarket, you may be surprised to learn that just like grocery stores and supermarkets, you are unlikely to find liquor for purchase.

To read about why grocery stores don’t sell liquor, read this recent article.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What is the purpose of a supermarket?

A supermarket is meant to be a one-stop-shop to get everything you use daily.

Supermarkets offer shoppers convenience, a wide variety of choices, low prices, and uniformity in the quality of products.

By not having to make several stops on shopping day, you can save yourself an immense amount of time. No separate trip to the farmer’s market or meat market. You don’t even have to make a separate trip to the pharmacy.

Each supermarket has its own set of weaknesses and strengths, but for the most part, they all have a wide variety of groceries to choose from.

From organic foods to ethnic foods to specialty items, you are bound to find most everything you need at a supermarket.

Most shoppers have to shop within a budget. This is pretty easy to do as supermarkets often have lower prices and run frequent sales.

Finally, if you shop at a supermarket, you can rest assured that just about every store within that chain will carry the same items, and likely have similar layouts. So if you go out of town, and need to do some shopping, chances are that it will feel very much like shopping at home.

But what if the layout is different than your hometown supermarket? Why would they change it around?

To find out, just read this recent article on my site. You may be surprised to find out why grocery stores like to change it up sometimes!

Does Target count as a supermarket?

No. Again, they sell much more than groceries.

Like Walmart, Target sells clothing, electronic devices, and clothing. Most Targets do have a grocery department in the store, but many don’t sell fresh produce, have a meat department, or even have a refrigerated department.

Walmart Neighborhood Market is considered a grocery store, though.

If you are shopping at a supermarket, you are probably like me and like to make as few stops as possible. You can avoid that trip to the meat market by purchasing your chicken at the supermarket.

But what grocery stores and supermarkets have the best chicken selection?

Luckily I wrote this recent article that answers this very question!

Just click the link to read about what grocery stores have the best chicken on my site.

So while all supermarkets can be called grocery stores, superstores (or hyper-stores) cannot be called supermarkets or grocery stores.

They do sell groceries, but they also sell many other things like jewelry and gym equipment.

Superstores and hypermarkets really are the one-stop-shop.

What is the difference between a grocery store and a convenience store?

The biggest difference between a grocery store and a convenience store is the type of food they sell.

Grocery stores have a wide variety and sell fresh produce, vegetables, meat, and staple items. They may also sell some household items.

Grocery stores are bigger and managers want you to hang out for a while. They are typically cleaner and located near residential areas for convenience.

Convenience stores, on the other hand, have limited variety. They may sell some everyday items like food and even some household items.

You won’t find any fresh produce. There won’t be a bakery or a floral department or a fishmonger.

Typically, they sell snacks, soft drinks, toilet paper, newspapers, and magazines. Convenience stores may be inside of gas stations or stand-alone stores. Convenience store prices will typically be higher than in a grocery store.

The idea of a convenience store is that it is to supplement any items that you may not have gotten at the grocery store. Or maybe you are in between grocery trips and you just need one or two items quickly.

Convenience stores are open for long hours and often have only one or two people working at a time. They are usually located near busy streets and highways that are easily accessible for…you guessed it…convenience.

They are also known as corner stores, corner shops, and bodegas in Spanish speaking areas.

What is a hypermarket (and how are they different?)

Hypermarkets are another name for superstore. They are a combination of supermarket and department store.

At a hypermarket, you can buy food, hardware, clothes, electronic devices, and even appliances.

Target is an example of a hypermarket because it offers a variety of food products, clothing, electronics, books, toys, and furniture. Costco is another example of a hypermarket.

The biggest difference between a supermarket and a hypermarket, or superstore, is that hypermarkets are supermarkets that also sell big-ticket items like:

  • Furniture
  • Appliances
  • Televisions.

Supermarkets are large, hypermarkets are massive. In fact, hypermarkets are typically three to four times bigger than grocery stores.

Just like Walmart and Target, Costco sells electronics, clothes, groceries, and appliances. They have a bakery, deli, and sell fresh produce. But they do it on a much larger scale.

They even sell cars!

Hypermarkets, like supermarkets, are typically part of a large chain

As a result, profit margins and prices are lower.

Hypermarkets will generally have sparse decor. For example, if you walk into a Costco or Sam’s Club, you’ll notice that it’s pretty utilitarian when it comes to aesthetics.

Costco sells a lot of stuff at a steep discount. They can do this by saving money throughout the store. They don’t have permanent aisles, making it easy to rearrange them on a seasonal basis or as they get different inventory in.

Costco wants you to buy in bulk whereas supermarkets like Whole Foods, want you to linger.

In fact, they encourage lingering. The longer you stay in the store, the more likely you are to purchase more. Both supermarkets and hypermarkets save money in different ways, but they both understand how important it is that their consumers purchase in volume.

You’ll also notice that Costco doesn’t have a whole lot of front-end employees. They have cashiers, but nobody bags your groceries. In fact, they don’t have bags at all. This is another one of the ways they can keep prices down.

What’s interesting, is that even though their prices are low, and their decor is utilitarian, they still want you to hang out. They often have small restaurants and coffee shops inside with seating areas.

This goes back to the idea that the longer you are in the store, the more likely you are to spend money.

Did I answer everything you wanted to know about the differences between a grocery store and a supermarket?

In this article, we talked about all of the differences between grocery stores and supermarkets.

We gave examples of the two and even talked about some of the conveniences of shopping at supermarkets versus just shopping at grocery stores.

And we talked about superstores, hypermarkets, and convenience stores. Then we talked about how all of them are different in different ways.

What is your favorite place to buy groceries?

Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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