Category Archives: Customer service and loyalty

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 37: A Surprising Choice…

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I went to visit my mother-in-law.  My mother-in-law is a very young, spry, “with it” woman, still living in her own house, doing her gardening, driving, etc.  We started talking about where we liked to shop.  Lo and behold, my 87 year old mother-in-law loves Trader Joe’s! 

Now mind you, in order for her to shop at Trader Joe’s, she has to drive almost 30 minutes to get there—that means she drives by lots of other supermarkets on her way!

But as far as she is concerned, it’s worth the trip.  For her, it’s an adventure and she finds new products to try so that she can serve them to her children, grandchildren and at her weekly dinner parties.  She feels that the customer service is excellent, the people warm and friendly, and the prices reasonable.  The store size is also a benefit—it’s not a massive 50,000+ square foot store.  It’s big enough to be an adventure and have everything she’s looking for, but not so large as to be overwhelming. 

Who would have known?   

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 35: Lost in the Aisles!

We were out of town this past weekend visiting friends and family, and stopped into a supermarket that was part of a chain I frequent. However, the aisles were not set-up the same way as the ones in my home-town store. While understandable  this location was a bit smaller than the one I normally visit  the variation was somewhat annoying, as I was in a rush.

In an effort to expedite things I searched for the store directory… you know, the “alphabetical index” offered by some supermarkets that enables shoppers to more quickly determine where various items are located. But I couldn’t find it. Even worse, I couldn’t find a store associate either…!

My annoyance level increased;  usually there are store associates in the aisles, either checking inventory or stocking (blocking!) the shelves… but not today. Maybe because it was Easter weekend? Possibly the store was short-staffed?

So… what can a grocery store do to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for?

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that some stores provide a directory, but all stores obviously do not. Some stores place a large sign and flashing light over the directory, but all stores do not… and I wondered, maybe stores should provide more than one directory! Maybe a directory should be located right up front where a shopper gets their shopping cart or basket….

What do you think… what else might a supermarket do to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for?

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 34: Saturday Night?

I was busy all day on Saturday, but still needed a few things at the supermarket and decided to go to the store that evening.  Mind you, I hadn’t been to a supermarket on a Saturday night in years, and it was certainly an eye-opening experience! 

First, the clientele…  there seemed to be a lot of young couples there… young married couples.  FYI, this supermarket hasn’t implemented anything like I read about where it might be a good place to go on a Saturday night to meet someone.  At this store, there weren’t many singles; everyone looked “taken.” 

The next thing I noticed was the staff.  Saturday night’s crew consisted mostly of teenagers—whether they were stocking, working at the customer service counter, running the cash registers or bagging.  And there were lots of conversations among the teenagers the type of conversations most customers don’t want to hear about… dating, the party after work, how busy or not it might be in the store on Sunday and whether or not they will need to work, or be called and told that they weren’t needed. 

I don’t know about you, but I am really not interested in hearing about the cashiers’ after work plans.  We’ve talked about engaged employees… well they were certainly engaged among themselves, but not engaged with the customers or with the doing of their jobs!

There also wasn’t much supervision… there seemed to be one supervisor at the front of the store… and there were probably 15 – 18 registers open, along with 4 self check-outs.  There were few, if any, of the older, more mature workers in the store. 

Is what I experienced the culture for Saturday night at the supermarket?

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 31: Capitalizing on Opportunities

This past weekend, I was in four very different stores buying groceries.  First stop was Costco, because I needed paper products and soaps and detergents, plus it’s always interesting to see what special items they might have.  Next stop was Trader Joe’s because my husband likes a few of their products that don’t seem to be available anywhere else—a mixture of Gruyere and Swiss cheese, a peppermint soap and some organic snacks.  Later on that day, I stopped at Jeannotte’s Market, the corner store, where I ordered subs for dinner and picked up a few emergency items…milk, dog bones, and bread.  Then Sunday noon, I was at the regular supermarket, where I still spent more than $225 even after all of those other stops at other stores.   

Each store offers its own experience and has its own pluses and minuses….but some make better use of their competitive advantages than others.  Costco is clear on what it’s about—good prices on staple items, treasure finds, sampling, a fun shopping experience; Trader Joe’s has interesting products, a small friendly footprint and it is a little bit quirky and has a hip vibe; Jeannotte’s offers convenience—quick in and out, very friendly service and great sandwiches; and the supermarket chain offers huge variety, great produce and decent prices. 

Of all of the venues, which does the best job of capitalizing on its competitive advantage? 

Which has the opportunity to create more competitive advantage or to do more with its current competitive advantage?  

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 30: A Few Outside-the Box Answers!

In our “outside the box” post 27, we posed a question about the types of things supermarkets could be doing to improve the shopping experience, provide better customer service and promote customer loyalty. 

Some research and a few articles in the news indicate that more stores are heeding our call…!! 

Roche Brothers in Massachusetts now offers its elderly and non-internet folks a call-in service with delivery.  Publix Supermarkets is expanding its online ordering with store pick-up in several of its Atlanta stores.  Several stores are expanding their entertainment factor— a Michigan chain is offering live music and many now offer restaurant dining in their stores.

A store in New Hampshire has greatly expanded its demonstrations and freebies in the produce and cheese departments, vastly improving on their previous practice of simply putting a wedge of cheese or some fruit pieces on a plate; the fact that they now man the display and enhance it with a more upscale merchandizing effort has resulted in greater interest and interaction by customers as well. One of these stores occasionally provides presentations from a local nutritionist, who provides straightforward explanations of the best ways to mix and consume certain food types and helps customers interpret the information on content labels.

Have you encountered other good examples? 

Is There a Supermarket That Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 28: Outside of the Box Part 2

In last week’s post, we posed the question, “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?”

In fairness, it’s important to recognize that supermarkets have done quite a bit in this area over the past decade or two…

I can remember, for example, when the first bakery was added to the local supermarket, and how convenient it was to be able to buy freshly-made donuts and muffins right there at the store  no extra trip needed! And  improvements have also been made over the years in the deli, seafood and meat departments, each typically offering a wider range of choices and quality. In similar fashion, and in addition to the salad bars and ready-made food offerings noted in last week’s post,  many  of today’s supermarkets also provide a pharmacy, florist and bank, thus adding significantly to the convenience and value associated with the shopping experience.

But time marches on… as does the competition, as noted in our February 14th post.

So, I’ll once again ask, what should be next? 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?

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 21: Outside-the-Box Competition!

Conway Management's Supermaket Whitepaper

Grocery shopping is happening in lots of places other than traditional grocery stores and supermarkets. 

An article in today’s NY Times, entitled, “Big Retailers Fill More Aisles With Groceries ,” describes the increased competition that supermarkets are facing.  For example, the article states, “Walgreens is devoting up to 40 percent of the space in its redesigned stores to fresh and frozen groceries as a test to see how well food sells. It offers items like cut fruit or sushi in office locations, and staples like lettuce, bananas and meat elsewhere”.  In one store, “the food section looks like a gourmet grocery, offering six varieties of cage-free eggs, gnocchi, shitake mushrooms…“ 

CVS has also added larger grocery sections.  My friend, Margot, often stops at a CVS on her way into work or on the way home….and it’s not just when she is going to the pharmacy!  It is quick, and easy in, easy out unlike a traditional supermarket and the CVS rewards program that she benefits from is remarkable! Target shoppers know that Target has invested heavily in expanding its food offerings and not surprisingly, has seen its overall sales and traffic increase about 6% in stores where they have added new grocery areas. 

So where does all of this leave the traditional or even non-traditional supermarket?  Its customers are either picking up a few items while they are at the pharmacy or Target or Wal-Mart….or….their customers are headed to the pharmacy, Target or Wal-Mart instead of the supermarket.  How are supermarkets responding to this sea change in competition? 

What innovations and competitive advantage can the supermarkets bring that will bring customers back and bring them back more frequently? 


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.