Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 16: Private Label v. National Brands

Most recently, I was looking for my brand of bread and butter pickles, no sugar added. 

The slot where I had always found it was now plentifully stocked with the store brand.  Although they had my national brand in lots of other categories, the bread and butter pickles, no sugar added, was now store brand only.  So I bought and tried them.  They were pretty good—maybe not quite as good as I remembered my national brand to be, but good enough. 

Thinking about it later, it seems as though it is common now for the national brands to receive less shelf space, with more space devoted to store brands.   Do shoppers notice?  When they do notice, how do they react?  Are there certain items for which shoppers will readily substitute a store brand for the national brand?  Is it always the price that leads shoppers to do so? 

Often, the store brands are “just as good”….but are they just as good all of the time? Or is it just a perception problem?  Which items are shoppers least likely to switch from the national brand to the store brand?  Speaking personally, Heinz ketchup, Cheerios, Thomas’ English Muffins, Land ’o Lakes cheese and butter quickly come to mind…and next time, when I am in a different supermarket, I am going to look for my brand of bread and butter pickles, no sugar added…and check the price difference too.

How about you?  National brands?  Store brands?  What is your experience?  Like me, are you willing to substitute on some items, but not others?    How much less should we expect to pay for a store brand that is “just as good” as the national brand?

Top 10 Worst Supermarket Shopping Experiences

Conway Management's Supermaket Whitepaper We polled a number of people this month, asking each to answer the following two questions:

  • What was the best customer service or shopping experience you’ve had this past year while you were shopping for groceries in a supermarket?
  • What was the worst customer service or shopping experience….

Last week we shared the “Top 10 Best Supermarket Shopping Experiences.” This week, in no particular order, the worst stories at the supermarket…

  1. When I called the supermarket and told them I had purchased “bad strawberries”, they actually wanted me to save them and bring them back to the store so that they could give me credit

  2. When the cashiers and baggers talk among themselves, and stop working to tell their stories to one another, and fail to greet me with even the slightest bit of interest when I am unloading my cart to check-out; or when the store associates are telling stories to one another, using inappropriate language or innuendos that make me uncomfortable

  3. When I can’t find something and there is no one around to ask, or when I ask for help and it is obviously inconvenient for the store associate to help me – and they simply direct me to the supposed right spot versus leading me to it

  4. When parents bring kids to the store for a big shop and the kids are obviously overtired and hungry and crying loudly and the parents just ignore them

  5. At one store (I suspect in an effort to seem more friendly than their competitors), the deli people tell customers, “We’re all one happy family – no need to take a number…” However, I regularly witness  conflicts between customers who argue (sometimes aggressively) about “who is actually the next person!”   Or, at other stores, when the deli people are also covering the fish display…and right when it is my number, they go and handle a fish customer

  6. When the plastic or paper bag breaks open between leaving the store and unpacking it at home.

  7. When the check-out lines are long but management fails to open additional registers, or when there seem to be lots of store associates around the store, but very few cashier lines open and lines are growing

  8. Using self checkout! It is supposed to be easy, and it is often more complicated and takes more time than it is worth

  9. When the bathrooms or parts of the store – shelves, windows, floors – are not clean, I wonder about what else is happening in the store….

  10. When the store gives people free coffee – inevitably people have trouble pushing their cart, shopping and drinking all at the same time; the inevitable spills and slow-moving traffic in the aisles are annoying

Top Ten Supermarket Shopping Experiences!

We polled a number of people this month, asking each to answer the following two questions:

  • What was the best customer service or shopping experience you’ve had this past year while you were shopping for groceries in a supermarket?

  • What was the worst customer service or shopping experience….

This week, the “Top 10 Best Supermarket Shopping Experiences” in no particular order:

  1. When I am looking around and can’t find something and I obviously look like I am trying to find something, a store associate notices and asks, “Is there something I can help you find?” Or when I ask a store associate for help finding an item, I like it when they take the time to walk with me or lead me to the area where the item is “supposed to be” located.

  2. When the Arnold bread man was stocking bread, and was in my way and I had to ask him to pass me a loaf of bread, he was polite, said no problem and thanked me for buying Arnold bread.

  3. When the store is responsive…they see lines developing…(not just long lines, but anticipating the lines), call associated from other parts of the store and open new lines….

  4. When the store associate calls someone out when they have lots more items than the 12 or less that they are supposed to have in the quick line…..they did it politely and the customer had not just 12 or 14 items, but 20+, so it was obvious that they were taking advantage…

  5. Free samples, either at the Deli so I can make the best buying decision or when they offer general samples… everyone is trying items….and then they tell you exactly where to find them in the store!

  6. When the cart gatherers in the parking lot stop and help me load my car!

  7. When I called the store to tell them that I had some bad produce, they told me just to stop in at the customer service counter next time I was in the store and bring my receipt and they would credit me….as opposed to the store that wanted me to bring back the rotten strawberries….like I was going to hold on to them and keep them until I went back to the store!

  8. When I was buying a cake and needed it decorated with Happy Birthday X, there was no one available to do the writing…..I asked the person if I could do it and they said sure, and loaded up the icing gun so I could do the writing and buy the cake right then.

  9. When I was shopping for avocados and they were all very, very hard… I asked the Produce Manager if they had additional stock. He said, “No, everything is out on display.” My expression must have given away my frustration – I was planning to make guacamole dip that evening… – so he asked me if I could wait just a minute. He went into the stock room and returned with avocados that had been identified as being “potentially over-ripe” and were, consequently, not put out for sale. They looked ideal to me – and the store only charged me half price!

  10. Last year I was sick during the holidays and was late getting to the store. It was the Wednesday before Christmas and I needed a twenty-plus pound frozen turkey. But the store only had small ones left… and it was after 8pm so there was no one working behind the meat counter! I asked a store clerk, who said everything was out… he suggested I buy two smaller turkeys, but I really didn’t want to do that. I then found the store manager. She was super!!  Not only did she stop to look in the stock room, but she found a 22 pounder! It was fresh, not frozen, but it made my Christmas!

Have you got a good story to add?

Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 13: Another Way to Handle “Out of Stock”

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!

Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 12: “Shopper, Check Thyself?”

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?

Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 11 – Out of Stock, but… An Opportunity for Great Customer Service!

I went to the grocery store on Sunday afternoon (again!) for a few items that I missed on my list from a couple of days ago.  I have been looking for the Pink Lady apples, which have been out of stock for several weeks.  Last week, I spoke to Sharon, who was working in the Produce Section.  She said they were out of stock and hoped to be getting stock soon.  I saw her again yesterday once again stocking produce.  I looked for the Pink Ladies…nothing on the shelves.  I spoke to her again about the Pink Ladies. 

She apologized, told me that she remembered me from last week and that the Pink Ladies are due in on Monday morning.  She thanked me for continuing to shop at the store and pursuing an item that I really liked.  She added that by mentioning and asking for the product, she would be on the lookout, try to do a better job keeping them in stock, watch the inventory and follow up with the Produce Manager.  Isn’t that a better way to handle a customer and an out of stock and keep customer loyalty, as opposed to what often happens? 

Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 10 – We Must Be Out of Stock!

Conway Management's Supermaket Whitepaper 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? 

Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 9 – Out of Stock…?

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?

Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 8 – Economic Woes v. Consumer Spending: What Next?

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….

Is There a Supermarket that Wants to Earn My Business & Loyalty? Volume 7 – More Interactive… or Less?

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?