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.        

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.

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?