Why more Spaniards are now shopping around the clock

Madrid supermarket’s 7.30am to 2am opening hours reflect changing grocery-buying habits

People shopping at the Carrefour supermarket in Lavapiés on a Friday evening.
People shopping at the Carrefour supermarket in Lavapiés on a Friday evening.julian rojas

María, a 70-year-old grandmother, has lived most of her life in Madrid’s Lavapiés neighborhood and shops at the local Carrefour supermarket at least once a day.

The Carrefour store has some of the longest opening hours in Spain. Six months ago, its daily hours were expanded to 7.30am to 2am, except on holidays.

Six months ago, Carrefour expanded its store hours in Lavapiés to 7.30am to 2am, except on holidays

“It’s amazing. Anytime you come in, there are people,” María says. “Yesterday, I came in here at midnight because my daughter had a craving for a hamburger. I think it’s great.”

María and the Lavapiés Carrefour are good examples of how Spaniards’ shopping habits have changed over recent years.

Before Lavapiés became a multicultural district – filled with Chinese shops, Indian restaurants, African hairdressers and people from all over the globe – María would visit the corner shops and buy her fresh meat and fish at the neighborhood markets.

But when the superstores came to Spain, she, like many of her neighbors, would go to make large purchases every two weeks with the entire family. “It was a huge family event; everyone would go, including the kids,” she recalls.

The internet shopping cart

“If the crisis has changed Spaniards’ consumer habits and people are now watching their cents when it comes to buying, the internet has also made a big difference,” says Ernst & Young economist José Luis Ruiz Expósito.

"More and more Spaniards are buying online and new ways to shop are being offered, such as order picking, where you choose the items you want and go to the store within an hour to pick them up," he says.

While e-commerce has only captured 0.6% of the sales market in Spain, in Britain and France it makes up 5%, according to Nielsen.

Nevertheless, 35% of Spanish shoppers say they go online to look for the best prices offered by the big chains.

“The change in consumer habits has been amazing over the last few years, and these changes are here to stay,” says Espósito.

If she forgot something, María would find it in one of the stores near her home.

But all that has changed.

“Nowadays, Spaniards don’t buy for the entire month but instead make small purchases in order to economize, and they are usually made at different stores,” explains Asís González de Castejón, a supermarket chain analyst for the consulting group Nielsen.

The reasons differ as to why Spaniards’ shopping habits have changed – but the most important one is the economic crisis.

“People are looking at prices more carefully, they compare and search for items that are on sale. They are also looking to purchase more for less and with better quality,” she said.

According to Nielsen’s latest report issued in March, three out of four consumers have changed their shopping habits. Today, Spaniards are visiting stores more frequently but purchasing less than before, which allows them to save money.

On a recent day, a couple enters the Carrefour in Lavapiés at around 6pm. The young man, with dyed blue hair, and the woman, covered in tattoos, both ask an employee for certain items that are on sale.

At the end of one aisle, Joaquín and Yolanda – two young scientists from Valencia who moved to Madrid for work – shop with their two daughters. In their shopping cart, they have 18 liters of Pascual milk, which they found on sale at €0.85 per liter carton.

“This was €0.96 at Mercadona today,” says Yolanda, who is unemployed and searches the internet for the best deals. The couple says they go to different stores depending on the prices.

Spaniards are visiting stores more frequently but purchasing less than before

At least 75% of all Spaniards say they look for bargains before they buy while 24% admit they shop at other stores rather than their regular retailer because of lower prices, according to Nielsen.

For these reasons, manufacturers have embarked on intensive advertising campaigns over the past few years to promote name-brand products. Last year, 28% of all sales of consumer goods were made through special offers. At the same time, generic or off-brands made up 38% of consumer sales.

Despite the fact that no one can purchase alcohol after 10pm, large numbers of young people can be spotted shopping at the Carrefour at around 1am on Friday – with some of them looking to buy something quick to eat.

Frank, a waiter originally from Bulgaria, has just gotten off work and is shopping for groceries because he doesn’t have time during the day. He also takes advantage of the short check-out lines at this hour.

This is like an after-hours party but without the police raid”

A late-night shopper

“This is what you call a square in itself,” says Sergio Fanjul, a journalist who blogs under the name Txe Peligro. “Everyone comes here.”

Fanjul, who lives in front of the supermarket, has created a Facebook series called “Encounters with Culture at Carrefour in Lavapiés” where he posts comments made by the people he interviews at the store.

“This is like an after-hours party but without the police raid,” says one of the several people Fanjul has interviewed. Another compares it to shopping in Manhattan, where many supermarkets and grocery stores are open all night long.

“Will extending the hours make it more profitable? Maybe not. But staying open until 2am is a service, and this service seeks to foster loyalty in the same way as having a fresh meat or fish section,” says González.

More information
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The French-owned chain owns 174 superstores, 112 supermarkets and 375 convenience stores across Spain. But only a handful have extended hours similar to the Lavapiés location.

“It was the Chinese who invented this,” says González, who sees the long store hours as just an experiment in some city center areas.

Nevertheless, they reflect the changes that have taken place in Spaniards’ shopping habits.

Shopping at Carrefour once or twice a day, as María does, is now something common, just like comparing prices for different products using a cellphone.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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