Over the weekend, I was doing some of my early Thanksgiving shopping along with thousands of my closest friends. The store was packed with customers and there were lots of store associates in the aisles restocking products throughout the store. It was a stressful time to shop.
But Sharon, my favorite produce Associate, was calm, relaxed and helpful as she stocked and inspected the produce displays. I needed strawberries. There were none in the usual spot. I looked around and asked her about the strawberries. She said they were out of stock and had been for a few days. She added that their computer assisted ordering system showed that there were none in the warehouse and that each day they were ordering strawberries without success. She apologized, said they hoped to have some within a couple of days. She then suggested that rather than make the trip to the store unnecessarily, to call the store (giving me the number) and check on whether strawberries were in stock.
That’s helpful customer service! She cared about my time!
I was at the grocery store yesterday with about 15 – 20 items in my grocery cart. I decided to use a self check-out aisle. Yesterday, I wondered why I ever went near it!
As long as I just had regular grocery items, it seemed to go OK, although there was the occasional, “Ding, ding, ding…put the item in the bag area” comment from the machine when I was taking too long. I had a few items of produce. The Gala apples had a code on them that I could read through the clear produce bag, so keying that item wasn’t too difficult. But the onions were a problem… I didn’t know the code for the onions that I had selected. I looked through the pictures… yellow onions, white onions, Spanish onions, medium onions…what kind of onions did I purchase? It seemed like they were medium, yellow onions… then I had to select which kind of packaging the onions were in…none, plastic bags from the produce department, my own carrying bags and if so, what kind of bags.
I obviously took too long, so I heard the dreaded, “Ding, ding, ding….help is on the way!” I quickly keyed in one of the selections which quieted the machine.
All in all, 15 – 20 items seem to be the maximum for self check-out…and too much produce makes it not worth it at all… What is your experience with self check-out?
According to Progressive Grocer, Sunday is the busiest shopping day of the week, followed by Saturday. That must be why when I went to my local supermarket on Sunday afternoon at 2pm, I couldn’t find the Thomas’ English Muffins that I wanted!
I know that the vendors do Direct Store Delivery for bread… so when is the last time that the Thomas’ delivery person was at the store. I checked with the store management. It was Friday. Friday? Does that make sense? I am at the store on the busiest shopping of the week (that store is open until midnight on Sunday, so there are 10 more shopping hours on Sunday)… and the store is out of stock on one of the products I buy every week… I guess I normally buy them at other shopping times than Sunday!
Throughout the store, I saw store associates restocking other items… but not the bread… at least not the bread that I wanted. I asked an associate about the English Muffins and he told me that they must be out of stock. Well, yes… so now what? Looks like there won’t be English Muffins for Monday morning breakfast at the King household.
In this day and age, when everyone knows that Saturday and Sunday are the busiest shopping days of the week, why would a vendor only stock Monday through Friday?
What is the size of the opportunity that the vendors and the supermarkets are missing by doing business this way? In a tough economy, how can grocers and bakers afford stock-outs? What is the lost profit? What would it take to fix the mismatch between customer demand and product supply? I wonder when they sold the last package of English Muffins…Sunday at 1:30pm? Sunday at 8:30am? Saturday at 11:00pm?
Last week I was at the local supermarket near work. I was looking for a specific brand of refrigerated, readymade Macaroni and Cheese. In the display that should have held the Macaroni and Cheese, I found mashed potatoes made by the same company. The packaging size is similar, but the look and color of the package cover could not have been more different.
I asked a manager who happened to be walking by about the product; he looked through the rack, noticing that the wrong product had been put in the rack. He made no comment on that. Then he went “out back” to see if they had any inventory. None. He apologized and said the next delivery for that product would be in a couple of days.
Was it a simple error where the wrong product was put in the rack? Did the store know it was out of stock? Do they do visual inspections throughout the store on an ongoing basis to alert them to out-of-stocks? Since another product was in the slot for the Macaroni and Cheese, the visual inspection probably wouldn’t be helpful. Do they use technology in their purchasing systems to maintain a perpetual inventory system that they can rely on to alert them to low and out of stocks?
How might the manager have handled the out of stock situation with me? If you’re in the supermarket business, how do your store associates and managers handle out of stocks with customers?
Most of all…, if you had been in my shoes as the shopper, what would have best satisfied you?
The University of Michigan released its Consumer Sentiment Report a couple of weeks ago….and the results were unnerving…how does this bode for the supermarket industry?
- 56% believe the economy is in worse shape than a year ago, while only 36% feel conditions have improved
- Only 23% believe that economic conditions will be better a year from now
- 20% think their incomes are at risk of deflating in the coming year
What can supermarkets do to offer more value to customers? Where will growth come from? Innovation? Marketing? Increasing customer value—from product selection and availability? Reducing prices (but you need to reduce costs as well or margins will be further squeezed!)? increasing the number, varieties and quality of private label brands? Then what? How do you get your customers to try them? What else?
A recent article In Supermarket News discussed what Family Dollar was doing to add more value and build engagement among its 45,000 employees. The story focused on its private label, Family Gourmet and specifically, Family Gourmet cookies. It sent samples to all of its stores so that the employees could try them. It plans to run a contest shortly to see which store can sell the most cookies, giving cash prizes to the winners. The chain has such faith in its product that it:
- sent the cookies to the store for free
- encouraged the employees to try them
- is confident that their employees will be able to heartily and enthusiastically recommend the cookies….and sales will increase
- offered a guarantee of full price refund if the customer is not 100% satisfied with the product
This is a classic win/win situation….Engaging your employees so that they become your best salespeople! Isn’t that what every company should be doing? Compare that with my experience at the meat counter in Volume 2 of this blog….if the butchers behind the counter had honestly and enthusiastically recommended the turkey cheddar burgers….
Yesterday I was in Manchester NH with about 90 minutes to spare waiting for my daughter’s field hockey game to start. I had seen a Super Stop & Shop on my way to the field and decided to check it out. It is a big, bright, clean, beautiful store, equipped with Scan It! Technology. I scanned my Stop & Shop customer loyalty card at the Scan It! pick-up area. One of the digital hand-helds lit up, I removed it and off I went. I picked up a few bags so that as I scanned each item, I could also bag it.
I was like a kid in a candy shop; as I picked up each item, I scanned it, and bagged it. I felt like I was in Star Trek, putting my faser on stun – picking, scanning and bagging… When I scanned Thomas’ English Muffins, the hand-held immediately gave me a coupon for 50 cents off if I bought two packages. I did and the correct price was shown. It was a relatively small shopping order—I wasn’t buying produce and I didn’t have to remove any items that I scanned in error, but still, it was intriguing and fast.
When it was time to check out, I went to an unmanned check out counter, used the hand held to scan “End of Order,” scanned my Stop & Shop customer loyalty card and paid for the order. Done. This was a no hassle, no human interaction way to shop. It was, however, interactive in that as I put items in my cart, coupons came up or suggestions for matching items. So, is it more interactive….or less?
I knew that I was doing more of the work, but for this size order and this experience, I was OK with that. I noticed that few customers were using the technology. So tell me folks, what’s your experience been with this technology? Love it? Hate it?
Last weekend I took the opportunity to go to Costco and Trader Joe’s. I go to Costco 1 – 2X per month and Trader Joe’s less frequently, but I know that whenever I go to either store, I am going to have some fun and find something new: a treasure, an interesting product, or twist on a product. I shop at Costco for specific items and always end up finding a few treasures at great prices which is what the Costco experience is all about. Never mind all of the interesting samples that you can try!
In Trader Joe’s, I picked up a few items. When checking out, I didn’t have one of my recycling bags, so I added one to my basket. The cashier was friendly, and commented that I must be making fondue. He asked whether I had ever tried “fondueing” potatoes or chicken. I said no, but he assured me it would be wonderful! Then he asked whether the recycling bag was something I was purchasing (as opposed to arriving with it). I told him it was a new purchase, and he said that Trader Joe’s would give it to me for free! Compare these experiences with the normal humdrum of shopping in one of the “regular supermarkets”.
No wonder according to a recent article in Supermarket News, quoting an analysis from DSR Marketing Systems, “Supermarkets are losing share to alternate formats selling food. Figures from the 2007 Census of Retail Trade illustrated that although supermarkets sales grew by 18% between 2002 and 2007, sales at warehouse clubs and supercenters increased by 70% in the same time period”. The article went on to say that the supermarket share of the total grocery and foods market continued its long term decline from 66% in 2002 and is projected to be at 62% in 2009. As a matter of fact, last week my husband was in Target shopping for school supplies. When he came home, he asked, “Do you know how much food Target is carrying now?”
If you’re running a grocery store or chain, how can you compete with the above? What can you do differently to offer customers a better experience—whether it is fun, great customer service, ease of access, making it easy for customers to find the products that they are looking for, etc.?
What would it take to make grocery shopping more fun for you?
The proliferation of new and enhanced products has left supermarkets and their customers overwhelmed. How many options for Tide detergent does one really need to offer? How much shelf space can one supermarket allot to cereal—oat, wheat, natural, high in Vitamin X, no sugar, added sugar, cinnamon, raisins, flakes, shredded, kernels in four different sizes? Or salad dressings— low fat, no fat, creamy, and a myriad of flavors, recipes, and sizes? I get it. Supermarkets need to winnow out the number of SKU’s that they offer. The number of choices is overwhelming.
But….what if it’s one of your favorite SKU’s that’s cut? What if the brand of dressing that you specifically enjoy is one of the SKU’s that is removed? It happened to me. Lighthouse Dressing, a dressing in the produce section. One day, where my dressing is supposed to be, the section is filled with other product. I looked to see if it had been moved. No such luck. It’s gone. I asked the produce manager about it. He told me that the chain had stopped carrying it, saying he was surprised, because it was a “pretty good seller.” I asked how I could help to bring it back because for that Lighthouse Dressing, I would go to another chain (and spend more than the cost of the salad dressing). He said he would mention it, but it probably wasn’t coming back.
I wonder… relative to the SKU’s you have removed or are considering removing, how do you measure the result? Have customers changed to other SKU’s that you still stock? Have customers noticed? If so, have they spoken to your associates? Have you collected that data? Do you bring back SKU’s that customers ask for? Do customers go to competitors to find that brand or SKU? How do you know?
I had a delightful experience last week at one of the local supermarkets. This is a store that I am in 1 or 2 times per week, usually for a quick trip. It’s near the office, so I might stop in on my way to work, at lunch time, or even after work. These trips average anywhere from $20 to $40. It’s not where I do my primary shopping….. It’s an older store and sometimes it feels like it’s out of the Stone Age. Still….
I was checking out and the woman at the check-out was named, Charlotte. I remember that because, not only did she use my name when I gave her my credit card, but she looked at me and said, “Hmmm, Mrs. King, I’m pretty new here, but I’ve seen you in the store once or twice and I am trying to get to know some of the customers.”
WOW! And this is the store that I don’t use as my primary supermarket! Charlotte, I am going to remember your name and I put in a good word for you with the store manager, too. That’s customer service!
When I checked out of the grocery store today, the check out person asked me if I found everything I waslooking for. I did find everything, but even if I didn’t, so what? She didn’t look at me when she asked me; it felt like it was something that all check-out people are supposed to ask the customers… and it was too late! By the time I am at the check-out and ready to pay, I am ready to leave the store. I am not interested in hanging around, waiting for someone to go check the shelves, or even apologizing to me.
In the past, I have mentioned that I couldn’t find ‘X’, but then I didn’t see any evidence that the information was entered so that it could be tracked. So, why ask?