A supermarket, a form of grocery store, is a self-service store offering a wide variety of food and household merchandise, organized into departments. It is larger in size and has a wider selection than a traditional grocery store, also selling items typically found in a convenience store, but is smaller and more limited in the range of merchandise than a hypermarket or superstore.
The supermarket typically comprises meat, fresh produce, dairy, and baked goods departments, along with shelf space reserved for canned and packaged goods as well as for various non-food items such as household cleaners, pharmacy products and pet supplies. Most supermarkets also sell a variety of other household products that are consumed regularly, such as alcohol (where permitted), medicine, and clothes, and some stores sell a much wider range of non-food products.
The traditional suburban supermarket occupies a large amount of floor space, usually on a single level. It is usually situated near a residential area in order to be convenient to consumers. Its basic appeal is the availability of a broad selection of goods under a single roof, at relatively low prices. Other advantages include ease of parking and frequently the convenience of shopping hours that extend far into the evening or even 24 hours a day. Supermarkets usually allocate large budgets to advertising, typically through newspapers. They also present elaborate in-store displays of products. The stores are usually part of corporate chains that own or control (sometimes by franchise) other supermarkets located nearby—even transnationally—thus increasing opportunities for economies of scale.
Supermarkets typically are supplied by the distribution centres of their parent companies, such as Loblaw Companies in Canada, which operates thousands of supermarkets across the nation. Loblaw operates a distribution centre in every province—usually in the largest city in the province.
Supermarkets usually offer products at low prices by reducing their economic margins. Certain products (typically staple foods such as bread, milk and sugar) are occasionally sold as loss leaders, that is, with negative profit margins. To maintain a profit, supermarkets attempt to make up for the lower margins by a higher overall volume of sales, and with the sale of higher-margin items. Customers usually shop by placing their selected merchandise into shopping carts (trolleys) or baskets (self-service) and pay for the merchandise at the check-out. At present, many supermarket chains are attempting to further reduce labor costs by shifting to self-service check-out machines, where a single employee can oversee a group of four or five machines at once, assisting multiple customers at a time.
A larger full-service supermarket combined with a department store is sometimes known as a hypermarket. Other services offered at some supermarkets may include those of banks, cafés, childcare centres/creches, photo processing, video rentals, pharmacies and/or petrol stations.
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