Here’s the Real Difference Between Grocery Stores and Supermarkets

You've probably been using them interchangeably, but should you?

The most thought that goes into food shopping is making a list of what you need or comparing prices at different stores. Although it’s not necessarily important for your shopping routine, where you shop—whether it’s Aldi, Costco or your shop of choice—probably falls into either the grocery store or supermarket category.

What’s the difference between grocery stores and supermarkets?

The real difference between grocery stores and supermarkets comes down to scale and specific products. Grocery stores stock their shelves with food and drink items and a handful of household items at most, according to Jenna Coleman, a consumer behavior analyst in the grocery sector and founder of Particular Pantry.

Supermarkets, however, have a wider assortment of things for sale, including clothing, baby items and medications, Coleman says. If you didn’t know there’s a difference between the two, you probably didn’t realize there’s a difference between dinner and supper, too.

Historically, “grocery store” describes a store selling a variety of food products, in comparison to specialty stores like bakeries and butcher shops, says John Stranger, VP Group Supervisor of the food-focused creative agency EvansHardy+Young. “Another big distinction, in earlier times, [is that] a grocer would get the products for the customer, whereas in a supermarket a customer filled their basket or car with their selections,” Stranger says.

There might be some extra distinctions, too

There are a few other distinctions between grocery stores and supermarkets, Coleman says. Some say supermarkets are always chain stores while individuals own grocery stores, she adds. “I think it’s interesting to note that while ‘grocery store’ is the more commonly used name for all of these stores in the U.S, ‘supermarkets’ is the prevailing term for such stores in the UK,” Coleman says.

Another way to look at it is, if you can buy food, small kitchen appliances, cookware and toothpaste all in one very large building, you’re in a supermarket, according to Kristin McGrath, an Editor and Shopping expert at

Still, McGrath, Coleman and Stranger agree that people almost always use these terms interchangeably. Instead of worrying about what phrase to use, it’s probably more helpful to remember these 19 tips frugal shoppers use to save big.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest