All posts by pdonehue

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 27: Outside of the Box?

Conway Management's Supermaket Whitepaper

Supermarkets spend a great deal of time, effort and money taking things out of boxes or stacking boxes. It makes me wonder if all that work with boxes makes it harder for supermarket management to think “outside of the box!” 


When you look at the food business in its entirety, end users (customers) are willing to spend a premium for convenience and for prepared foods—whether it is food for fine or casual dining, “on the go” fast food or pre-made / prepared foods.  Most stores have salad bars, rotisserie chickens and some ready-made foods, but what opportunities are still out there for supermarkets to make it easier for their customers to enjoy even greater convenience… and spend more of their food dollars at the supermarket? 


Many restaurants reserve a few prime parking places for “take-out” food.  What can grocery stores do to offer that same convenience?  Does the store’s layout allow/encourage quick trips for take-out or ready-made foods?  Is the variety of ready-made foods consistent with what the customer is looking for?  Can the customer pre-order the ready-made foods, pre-pay with a credit card and call the store when they arrive so that it can be delivered to the car, like many restaurants do?        


My grandfather lived in Massachusetts; I can remember visiting him and also remember at least a couple of local grocery stores encouraged their customers to “call-in” their orders. Someone at the store would write-down the items you wanted, then select and bag the items, charge the order to your “account,” and then have the entire order ready for a quick pick-up at the store! 


Sounds very nice and very convenient, doesn’t it?


One might think that with today’s technology this type of “nice and convenient” service would be a lot easier to provide than it was back then… do you think maybe the stores put more focus on customer service back then?

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 26: Selling, Marketing & Merchandising

Conway Management's Supermaket Whitepaper

I was in the produce aisle at one of the big supermarkets this weekend and looked at the plentiful produce.  The apples were shiny, the lemons and limes looked inviting, the salads in the bag were all sitting upright, the strawberries and raspberries were nestled in their plastic containers, the fresh herbs were all green and welcoming.  As I was standing there looking around, trying to think about what I might purchase, I wondered, is this it? 

Should or could the store be doing anything (cost effectively) more to sell / market / merchandise more produce?  The same question could be posed for meat, cheese, baked goods, floral, pharmacy, center store…

Webster’s Dictionary defines merchandising as:
sales promotion as a comprehensive function including market research, development of new products, coordination of manufacture and marketing, and effective advertising and selling. 

While the product was available and displayed well, there weren’t any free samples or anyone knowledgeable talking enthusiastically about the products, their source and their freshness, or why a shopper might want to buy them.  There were a couple of people who were stocking the produce, who seemed to be making every effort to avoid eye contact with customers.  I wonder if there might be opportunities for supermarkets to do a better job… to engage their customers and sell more products.  But for store employees to engage their customers, the supermarket must first engage its employees….


Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 25: Where Will I Shop Today?

Conway Management's Supermaket Whitepaper

I seem to be shopping at lots of different places for food these days…some days, it’s the corner store for 5 – 10 items, another day it’s the pharmacy, where I will pick up 3 or 4 items; Target for another 5 – 10 items, as well as the twice a week trip to the supermarket.  On average, I am in one of these venues four days per week… and some weeks, it’s five days!

So I am shopping more frequently and seeing lots of different things from a customer service or shopping experience perspective—in other words, what they do well and what they do not do so well.  


By far, the friendliest place, and the one with the best service, is the corner store.  I buy groceries at Walgreens or Target only because I am in the store for something else—as opposed to my friend Margot, who often shops at CVS specifically for a few groceries!  Then there is the supermarket—it takes the most energy and time, but has the greatest selection; great meats and produce, and certainly lower prices than the corner market or Walgreens. 

Target has the advantage of “all of the other stuff” you can get there, but it too takes
energy—big store, getting organized to go—and even though I go to a “Super” Target, it still lacks the the variety of the supermarket.   


In talking to friends and family, this seems to be an emerging pattern…more frequent trips to the store.  I remember my grandmother, who went to the “market” every day.  Are we heading back to those days?


And if so, will more trips be made to the corner store?  What, if anything, can supermarkets do to position themselves as the preferred destinations for these more frequent tripsto make more people feel like a near-daily trip to the supermarket is worth the added energy and time required?

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 24: Employee Engagement & Your Customers…

In our January 10th post we raised the question of employee engagement, and how it might translate to a better customer shopping experience.

Continuing with that concept in our January 24th posting, we shared information about Alec’s Shoe Store, a very successful local retail business that has done an exceptional job engaging their workforce – the staff is treated with a high degree of interest and respect. As a result, the staff has adopted a culture of treating customers with high levels of interest, responsiveness and respect – and even more important, it’s a big part of what earns the store high levels of customer loyalty.

Larry Bossidy  once said, ”I’ve never seen a company that was able to satisfy its customers that did not also satisfy its employees.  Your employees will treat your customers no better than you treat your employees.”

How might the dots connect…?  What might be the most effective and sustainable way for a supermarket chain to engage its employees and, in the process, teach them how to engage the store’s customers? 

Any suggestions?




Is There A Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 23: Stock & Talk??

Conway Management's Supermaket Whitepaper I was shopping at one of the big chains late Sunday morning and couldn’t help but notice all of the folks busily stocking shelves.  They were everywhere, it seemed….at least everywhere I wanted to go. 

When I was looking to buy Tide in a bottle, there they were.  They were also stocking in the mayonnaise aisle, and yes, in the dairy department too, as I looked for cheese, along with the milk, butter and eggs.  And yes, they were also there in front of the frozen pizza.  It started to feel like every time I turned around, there they were.  Even though this is a big, bright store with relatively wide aisles, it didn’t take long to feel small and closed in.

Sometimes the folks were right in front of where I needed to pick an item.  Some stockers seemed oblivious to the traffic hazard they were causing.  Twice, after waiting a moment or two, I had to ask the stocker to reach the item I needed, since it was completely blocked in and my waiting was causing more traffic problems!.  Before asking, I said, “Excuse me” and politely asked the stocker to reach the specific item, size and all, and then thanked them. 

Not one of the stockers spoke to me…none of them.  Not even, a “Sure, let me get that for you”.  I know the stockers are there to stock the shelves quickly, but by the end of the shopping trip, I felt that I was inconveniencing the stockers….rather than the other way around.

Have you  had similar experiences? Do you think “stockers” should be given some type of customer service training so they’ll know how to “respond” when asked for help?  I do…

Is There A Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 22: Employee Engagement – Part 2

There is a shoe store here in the city in which I live…one which brings in customers from this city and lots of surrounding towns.  The parking around the store isn’t great.  The prices are competitive.  The selection is good…but do you want to know what brings everyone to Alec’s Shoe Store ?  It’s the people….the people who work in that store.   

Many are long time employees.  They know a lot about shoes and proper fit….and they seem to care about each and every customer.  They want to help you find a pair of shoes that are right for you….right for your feet, your lifestyle, your special occasion.  THEY ARE ENGAGED EMPLOYEES!! 

Now this isn’t some little shoe store…it’s big, but it has a home town feel. There are lots of places to buy shoes, but most people around here prefer to go to Alec’s.  The employees make you feel that they value your business.  They appreciate that you chose to shop at Alec’s.  The employees seem to view Alec’s as their store. 

Why couldn’t more supermarkets develop this same culture that Alec’s has developed?  Why not begin in various sections in the supermarket…whether it’s in the meat department, produce, deli, cheese, wine?  It’s there for the taking…Who is going to step up to the challenge?  

Remember, the customers are not in the shoe store every week…or even every month.  Customers might be in the store only one, two or three times per year….but whether the employees recognize you or not, they always make you feel welcome and appreciated…unlike what most of us feel at the supermarket chain—even though we are in the supermarket far more often and spend lots more money…

There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 20: Employee Engagement

Supermarkets are fortunate in that they have high-levels of face-to-face contact with their external customers every day.  They have so many opportunities to talk to their customers and to find out what their customers are thinking/buying/wishing for.  Employees are there in the stores, restocking shelves and produce, clearing aisles, answering questions, greeting people coming in the door, serving them at the deli, the sushi counter, the fish counter, the bakery, the pharmacy, the bank; cashing people out, bagging groceries, and saying thank you and good bye as the customers leave the store; clearing the parking lots of carts to make it easy for customers to park.  So, if any employer has easy access to its customers, it is a supermarket. 

It would follow, then, that to leverage this valuable opportunity supermarkets should put a strong focus on engaging customers. Of course, in order to succeed at this type of strategic interaction, an organization must have a workforce that is both trained and engaged.

But despite the fact they have a high-degree of access to their customers, supermarkets, like most businesses, struggle with Employee Engagement.  

A 2007 Gallup poll showed that over 70% of the US workforce was disengaged, and that nearly twenty-percent of this group were actively disengaged! Similarly, a Towers Perron (now Towers Watson) study done in the same year found that only 20% of companies have a fully engaged workforce.  (Personally, I find that number high and not believable!). 

Further, that same study indicated that those with a fully engaged workforce financially outperformed their peers and had less turnover. These findings confirmed data presented by Crawford International the year before, indicating that engaged workforces were substantially more productive and significantly more profitable. 


Engaged employees can not only gather useful data, but can also, and more importantly, help customers have a great, or at least a better experience. 

But how many supermarkets invest in employee engagement—not just “friendly training,” but real employee engagement? 
Employee engagement starts with the hiring process, and then moves through training, personal and organizational behavior, and ongoing senior management attention to Employee Engagement.  It’s not an event now and then, but rather, a deep and abiding way that defines a company, and the way it selects, trains, treats and values each employee and customer. 

Many times when I go to the supermarket, I shake my head and am stunned about the lost opportunities for Employee Engagement.  In the next few posts, we’ll be talking about Employee Engagement…when it happens…and when it doesn’t.        

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 19: Comparison Shopping… Not As Easy As It Was

Conway Management's Supermaket WhitepaperRemember the days when every item in the supermarket was marked with the price…marked so that the consumer (you and me) would know the price that they paid for a particular item? 

It seemed a lot easier to do price comparisons then.  When I looked in the cupboard and took out the peanut butter, I could see what I paid for the item the last time.  Now, unless I keep my customer receipts or there was a price that was so different or egregious in some way, it’s hard to know or remember (or remember correctly) what I paid; it’s harder to compare prices between stores. 

But I have a friend who does pay attention.  Recently she was shopping for produce on 2 different occasions within 2 days of one another, and was buying many of the same items.   Due to unforeseen circumstances, she ended up shopping at stores in different chains, Chain A and Chain B.  Here is what she found.  Red bell peppers (not organic)…at Chain A, $3.49 per pound, at Chain B, $4.99 per pound; European cucumbers…at Chain A, $1.99 each, at Chain B, $2.99 each;  Grapes…at Chain A, $2.99 per pound, at Chain B, $3.99 per pound. 

According to my friend, the produce was equivalent.  We always knew that Chain B was more expensive, but her experience really put it into perspective.  Without her experience of shopping for the same items within a short period of time, we both would have thought that Chain B was a little more expensive, but we wouldn’t have known the real facts…because it isn’t easy to check and verify.

Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 18: Holiday Shopping…

On the day before Christmas I made the mistake of going to the supermarket for a few items.  I knew it would be busy, but I only needed a few things, so I thought, how bad could it be? 

Well, to put it mildly, neither the other customers nor the store employees seemed to be in the Christmas spirit.  Everyone was moving in slow motion…customers, people stocking shelves, cashiers.  I counted my items…13.  Was it worth going to the 14 items and under aisle?  Those lines were long and moving slowly, with lots of lights blinking.  Self check out? That might be a problem, since I had a lot of produce. Regular aisles?  The lines were snake-like! 

I decided to chance it, and went to the self check out.  Big mistake!  I couldn’t find the produce items on the charts that the store makes available.  (I’ve read that some frustrated customers select bananas as their produce, no matter what item it is, because it is so frustrating!).  Then one bag of grapes had a bar code on it, but the machine couldn’t read it, so I heard my nemesis. “Help is on the way!” 

When the manager arrived, she told me that although many stores can read the bar code, this store couldn’t read it (I knew that), so that I should have known to key in the number code.  OK. 

Then I tried to use a gift card to pay for the items, but the reader couldn’t read the gift card.!  Rather than call again for help, I decided to pay for my items with a credit card and get out of the store to enjoy some real Christmas spirit.  

I’m avoiding going again until after New Year’s Day!

Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 17: Good Customer Service from an External Source!

Conway Management's Supermaket WhitepaperI stopped at the supermarket on my way home from work. My sister is having a pasta party tomorrow night for her son’s hockey team and my assignment is to make stuffed shells. I started in the dairy aisle and picked up mozzarella, ricotta, cream cheese and parmesan. Next stop the pasta aisle… into the cart went the spaghetti sauce which I will “doctor up” with spices and meat to make it special.

Then on to the pasta section, and… you guessed it, no jumbo shells! The slot for the Barilla jumbo shells had something else in it. The slot for the Prince jumbo shells was “missing!” I couldn’t even find the tag. I spoke to John, who was stocking some product in the aisle. He was helpful… trying to find it, looking through products, looking for the tags. Still, I was disappointed.

John told me that he didn’t work for the supermarket; he worked for United Foods and stocks about 1,500 items in the store. He went and asked someone who works in the store and came back to tell me that they were out of stock. He empathized with me about finding another product in the slot reserved for the shells and how that impacts the customer’s experience and also makes the store’s job harder to track out-of-stocks and to restock. He suggested that I go to the customer service desk and ask them to call another store in the chain which was about 1.5 miles away. He was sure they would do that for me. He also mentioned that the other store was a lower-volume store and was more likely to have the product.

John turned a crummy experience into a positive one. I did stop at the customer service desk. John was right…they called the other store. They had the product and I’ll make the stuffed shells tonight.