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Boston offers retailers a tale of 2 strategies

BY Carol Radice

The largest city in New England, Boston and its surroundings have been fortunate to experience sustained economic growth in recent years. An influx of high-profile firms and a real estate market-building boom are two factors influencing that growth. As a major regional employment center, Beantown’s job growth rate is outperforming state and national averages. In fact, employment levels recently reached their highest levels since the data started being collected in the late’60s.

With a strong commercial sector, it has the third-highest jobs per square mile in the nation after San Francisco and New York City.

Boston has a large share of highly-skilled, educated workers. In fact, 19% of the area’s workers are employed in the healthcare and social assistance industries, with five of the 10 largest employers in Boston being hospitals, but it is the professional/scientific/technical services and finance/insurance industries that have been adding the most jobs in the past four years. While growth may be exceeding expectations, forecasts suggest there could be a slowdown in the next two years.

While often labeled a compact city, its metro region spans five counties in Massachusetts and two in New Hampshire.

Boston attracts a high percentage of young adults due to its low unemployment, walkability, public transportation and low crime, but those factors also make it an expensive place to live.

Boston’s real estate market remains hot, with the volume of construction at historic levels and of one of the lowest rental vacancy rates in the country, making it a struggle for many to afford to live here. City officials currently are adding nearly 8,000 new housing options to alleviate some of these issues.

Given the dichotomy that exists among Boston’s population, it is not a big surprise that the two retail names most frequently mentioned represent two divergent market approaches — one more upscale and the other with appeal to the cost-conscious.

Wegmans is well-known in the northeast for its super clean, well-lit stores featuring wide aisles, a professional atmosphere and quality offerings. It recently added two locations in the Boston-metro area, one in Natick and the other in the Newton Nexus Shopping Center in Newton.

Customers love the assortment and often rate Wegmans’ store brands as top-notch. They also enjoy the prepared foods, which are often described as restaurant quality or better, although a little pricey. Its Medford location even features a full liquor offering, cheese cave, burger bar and pizza-to-order station.

Customer service is a level above most, customers said. Wegmans’ staff is often cited for being attentive, friendly, happy, positive and willing to do whatever it takes to satisfy its customers, all with a smile on their face. Others appreciate the ease the Wegmans app offers, showing prices, arranging items by aisle to make the shopping trip more efficient and keeping track of purchases.

Another heavily shopped retailer in the area is Market Basket. With its no-frills atmosphere, retro interior decor, focus on perishables, well-stocked shelves and strong owned private-label offerings, this retailer is a big hit for those in the Boston-metro area looking to save money on their grocery bills. Shoppers also love Market Basket’s comprehensive, deep mix and varieties not found at other retailers.

While the prices are exceptionally good, many people said they shop Market Baskets because of its customer service. The staff is often described as courteous and knowledgeable, and its shoppers like the fact that the staff is visible and easily accessible.

As many price-focused companies have done, Market Basket limits its store hours. Company officials said reducing its operating costs plays a key role in its ability to keep its prices low.

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