Putting an End to Customers’ Cherry Picking Ways
Editorial by Bill Bittner, President, BWH Consulting
A number of general merchandise retailers have begun altering return policies to address customers they’ve identified as chronic complainers. These are shoppers who return an unusually high number of products to the stores. Returned items cost retailers money and some have decided (wrongly or rightly) to institute policies that discourage shoppers from bringing products back to the store.
Hi-lo supermarkets have a nemesis of a different nature – the cherry picker. We all know they exist. They’re the shoppers who swarm into stores to stock up on sale items but are noticeably absent other than at that time. Is it time for supermarkets to identify these shoppers and find a means to putting an end to their cherry picking ways?
How would stores go about this and, more importantly, should they bother?
Theoretically, we can use frequent shopper data to identify cherry pickers. I’ve not heard, however, of much effort being made to stop them. Many ads include limits on the number of items that can be purchased, but I am only aware of them applying to a particular transaction. I am not aware of any retailers using their frequent shopper data to enforce the limits of numbers of items purchased over the length of the promotion.
Part of the reason limits are not enforced is technical. Frequent shopper data is often maintained on a central database to accommodate customers that visit more than one of a retailer’s stores. The data to update the database is forwarded with the POS sales data. It is often summarized, so depending on the level of summarization there may not be enough detail in the central file to identify individual participation (i.e. the central file may merely have “point totals”). New and faster networks, combined with overall implementation of messaging interfaces, has made it possible to exchange more data in real time so that it is now technically feasible to have the details on the central file.
I really don’t know whether the problem is big enough to warrant the additional data storage that would be necessary to prevent cherry picking. It probably depends on the philosophy of the particular retailer.
The other aspect is that it would be an operations nightmare and easily subverted. Operations would be forced to explain the whole thing when it went into effect and would suffer the consequences when customers refused to keep the items or walked out on an order. For hardcore cherry pickers, the policy can be easily subverted by applying for multiple cards. All-in-all, I think cherry pickers are just something supermarket operators running items at sale prices have to accept as part of doing business.
Moderator’s Comment: How big of a “problem” are the cherry pickers? Should retailers use frequent shopper data to limit customer purchases throughout
the length of the promotion instead of merely by transaction? –
Bill Bittner – Moderator