Wal-Mart is looking to improve its online business.

When it comes to offering the best prices on food, Dollar General is the top gun. According to Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom in his “low- and middle-market” pricing study, the dollar store is the clear leader in the low end as it beat out Family Dollar and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

This was the fourth pricing study conducted in the past five months, and revealed a growing gap between Dollar General and other retailers. The standing for Dollar General comes as the company is on track to open 1,000 stores this year as retailers across the market pare down the total number of their doors.

It’s noteworthy that as Dollar General settles into being a price leader on food, competitors continue to lower prices against it and Wal-Mart — even as consumer spending ticks up and economists see overall retail sales on a “strong footing.”

In the Gordon Haskett report, Wal-Mart was the price leader in the middle market — although its lead has narrowed. “Based on the most recent data, Dollar General’s pricing lead on Wal-Mart has expanded by 60 basis points sequentially, from 140 basis points in June to 200 basis points in July,” Grom noted. “Similarly, Dollar General expanded its lead on Family Dollar from 390 basis points in June to 480 basis points in July.”

Family Dollar has over 8,000 units.  Arthur Zaczkiewicz

In this most recent report, Grom upped the number of basket items to 67 from 43 used in the earlier studies. In the low, or dollar store, market study, the analyst compares Dollar General, Family Dollar and Wal-Mart. The middle market study includes Wal-Mart as well as Target, Kroger, Amazon Fresh and regional players such as Albertsons, Randalls and Shaw’s.

In the middle market study, Grom said that compared to the prior report in June, “most players improved their pricing position relative to Wal-Mart, including improvements at Albertsons, Amazon Fresh, Target and Randalls,” he said. “As a result, competitor baskets were priced at an 11.5 percent premium to Wal-Mart in the month of July, down from 13.5 percent in June and below the five-month average of 12.6 percent.”

As food retailers lower prices, spending data from the government showed higher total retail sales. In his most recent consumer study, Chris Christopher, executive director at IHS Markit, noted that in July “consumers came out swinging” after taking a break in May and June. “Retail sales started the third quarter on a very strong footing,” he said. “Retail gains were broad-based, highlighted by an unexpected turnaround at department stores.”

Christopher said the latest data points to ongoing growth of online sales. “E-commerce retail sales are 15.4 percent of retail sales excluding auto dealerships, gasoline stations, food stores and food services, and we expect this share to grow to 16.3 percent by the end of 2017,” he said. “In addition, online retailers are expected to take a bigger piece of the pie during the back-to-school retail sales season. Non-store retail sales (mostly online) were up 11.4 percent in July on a year-over-year basis.”

The executive director said retail sales data indicates that “consumers remain an engine of U.S. economic growth. We expect consumer spending to be the primary driving force of GDP growth in the back half of 2017, supported by rising employment, real disposable incomes and household wealth.”

Christopher also noted that income tax cuts in 2018 “will likely fuel an acceleration in spending growth, and a hike in the personal saving rate.” But consumer spending isn’t the only cylinder that needs to be firing. IHS Markit colleagues Nariman Behravesh, chief economist, and Sara Johnson, executive director of global economics, said in their report that while real GDP growth “bounced back” in the second quarter, “gains in personal consumption, business fixed investment, federal government spending and net exports were partially offset by a temporary retreat in residential investment.”

To date, analysts and economists continue to note that Millennials, the largest U.S. age demographic, continue to withhold spending on buying homes.

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