Where are grocers failing on in-store experience?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Mar 07, 2019

Doug Madenberg, Principal

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of two articles from the blog of The Retail Feedback Group (RFG).

RFG’s annual “Supermarket Experience Study” found four areas where supermarkets are generally falling short of delivering compelling experiences in the store.

Demonstrating food expertise: This should be the ultimate differentiator for physical stores. It’s one thing to view items neatly organized on a website or app, say lemons or oranges. But it’s another to experience a beautiful citrus display in a store with the colors and scents, perhaps with whimsical signage introducing a Meyer lemon or a cara cara orange. Even better — having an engaged produce associate nearby to offer suggestions for use and preparation. Yet, our survey found 34 percent of shoppers don’t agree that their store has the expertise to help them select and prepare food. Staff availability was also the lowest-rated service attribute in our survey. Furthermore, only 39 percent noticed available staff anywhere in the store for sampling. That is just too low for a store that sells food!

Assortments missing several trending categories: While relatively satisfied with overall selection, consumers rated variety significantly lower in specific high-demand and differentiating categories, i.e., local, international/ethnic, natural/organic, allergen-free. Demand algorithms and item movement models should be supplemented with more input from shoppers in local markets to see how stores can better meet their needs.

Stores are still geared for the wrong time of day: Traditional supermarket shoppers are quite satisfied during the late morning hours, significantly more so than Aldi or Walmart shoppers. Yet, they are considerably less satisfied during peak time — 3PM and 7PM — the time when Aldi and Walmart outperform other day parts. Supermarkets need to figure out how to be at their best when in-store traffic is the highest.

Shoppers leaving without pleasant human contact: Over half (53 percent) of survey respondents were highly satisfied with their visit if they had a pleasant interaction, versus only 30 percent highly satisfied without one. Yet 71 percent did not have any pleasant human interaction on their visit. Almost three out of ten did not have a single interaction. Humans are social animals. We naturally seek company and community. So, it’s not a stretch to imagine that the physical stores that do survive and thrive will be the ones offering at least some pleasant social interaction with their customers.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Where do you see grocers falling most short on the in-store experience? Which of the shortfalls cited in the article is hardest to overcome?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Grocers always have to be on the lookout for the next opportunity to thrill shoppers."
"I don’t see the contemporary shopper seeking “experiences” from their local supermarket as much as they are seeking efficiency."
"When you lose the human touch, you lose the shopper."

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18 Comments on "Where are grocers failing on in-store experience?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

In my personal opinion, I think many U.S. grocers leave a lot to be desired. The whole store experience feels tired and dated. There is too much product, usually merchandised in the most uninspiring of ways. There are exceptions – Publix, Wegmans, Market 32 by Price Chopper, AJ’s, and so on. But the big boys are pretty shabby in their approach! Food and grocery is a very visual category, but I am not seeing many capitalize on that.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust
In my opinion, most supermarkets fall short on the “experience” part of the experience altogether. I am constantly amazed at what a sterile, lonely place a supermarket can be. Here we are, in the foodie era, in what could be a mecca for foodies of all generations, and we are confronted by endless and meaningless assortments driven by co-op dollars (not the customer’s needs) and countless loss-leading promotions. Helpful human beings, as the survey reports, are almost impossible to find. The irony is that the opportunities for rich engagement in supermarkets are everywhere. Tastings and samplings should be a constant presence. Recipe suggestions and customer Instagram photos could take the place of some of those promo placards in the aisles. In-situ classes could be held to teach about everything from knife skills to nutrition to new products. Once the morning bake is complete, why not host classes in the bakery? The social media opportunities inside these stores are everywhere. The assortments! The colors! I know groceries are a requirement for our existence, but grocers should… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

The problem with thinking that grocery shopping should be any experience at all is that we have so much data that says shoppers aren’t interested in having an experience. How many articles, how many surveys, do we see that say shoppers don’t have time to shop or much interest in shopping (hence the reason for BOPIS or delivery) and why self-checkout is so important? Shoppers choose the level of engagement they want – and not everyone in Connecticut chooses Stew Leonards. Better research should be able to segment the market into those who want varying levels of engagement. Then you turn around and decide who you want to market to, remembering that creating an experience costs the shopper.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Of course this comes down to money, especially for skilled and informed help. Help is not only hard to find in the grocery store, but chances are when you do find someone, they don’t know the answer to the question being asked. “Not my department” is the usual and terrible answer. Yes, there are numerous opportunities in the store for tastings, classes, etc., but if you can’t cover the very basic items like having at least a few knowledgeable, helpful personnel in the store to help customers, you’ve already lost your shot.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

As shoppers’ tastes have broadened and their interest in cooking and foodie culture has grown, traditional grocers have chased these trends through expanded assortments. This makes navigating through a typical store more challenging than ever.

Some tough editing decisions — weeding out entire categories, not just individual items or brands — are long overdue. Time to “do less better,” not just in small-format stores like Aldi or Trader Joe’s.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Are we asking too much from the supermarket? After all, it is a grocery store where people come in to mostly buy stuff and get out. Everybody can’t be Wegmans, where people go not just to buy stuff and get out. And every grocer shouldn’t want to be a Wegmans.

If the grocer wants to get better, make it easier and more convenient to get in and out.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Getting in and out isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive with positive human contact or visually appealing displays. I do think that speed is a necessary condition for most stores and not every retailer needs to be a Wegmans. But there’s strong competition in some markets and coming soon to others that necessitates grocers take a step to compete.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I don’t disagree. Certainly, the ultimate in and out is a convenience store. And human contact is nice, but as I have written before, I have observed many times that shoppers have picked self check-out over manned lanes, even when the manned lanes had no line.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
Grocery stores have it tough when it comes to standing out because their products are much the same every visit. It’s hard to jazz up displays because at the end of the day a tomato is a tomato is a tomato. So they up the in-store experience with colorful graphics, classes, and demos. Wegmans and Mariano’s both offer a stellar experience, but even their stores gets stale when shoppers become accustomed to the stores’ perks and quirks and they become part of the background. Grocers always have to be on the lookout for the next opportunity to thrill shoppers. A grocery store’s Achilles’ heel will always be its people. That “pleasant human contact” craved by customers doesn’t happen enough. Associates stocking the shelves do not engage shoppers unless they are asked a question. I have never been stopped in any grocery store, in any state, by a manager asking about my visit, and the nicest cashier can be derailed by the bagger who puts the bread in with heavy canned goods. And then there is… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

The last, best opportunity for competitive differentiation is, in fact, the area where grocers score the worst in customer satisfaction. Is there a mystery here?

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Assortments reflecting trending categories is a difficult barrier to overcome. Potentially, the easiest is interacting with humans. Although this reflects hiring, training, etc. which takes time, resources and a commitment. This should be the ante for every retailer.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust
Over the past few days, we have seen reports on this site about Target outperforming its competitors and the market by having good staff who engage with their “guests.” We have also read how grocery retailers undervalue shelf management and getting the right products in front of the customers. Now here we see what customers are saying in research, not surprisingly, that they want more interaction with staff — and friendly staff, not rushed and harassed staff who do not have time to interface with customers. That customers are not getting what they want in areas of food that are trending upwards and finally that food retailers are just not getting staffing right at the peak times. The three key areas of good retailing are all here and it’s obvious why so many retailers are failing and some are winning – supply chain, space and staff. Get the right products on the shelves, have staff to help and serve them with a smile, and also have the right number of staff at the busy times.… Read more »
Mark Heckman
BrainTrust
At the risk of being a bit of a contrarian among the comments of my colleagues, I don’t see the contemporary shopper seeking “experiences” from their local supermarket as much as they are seeking efficiency. After spending much of my 30 years in the supermarket channel devising ways to engage, woo and entice shoppers, I eventually learned that most supermarket transactions are small basket mission trips, with the primary goal of the shopper being to get in and get out as quickly as possible. If this were not the case, BOPIS and home delivery would not be gaining ground as viable options. If this were not the case, smaller more efficient formats like Aldi and Lidl would not be gaining market share. While it is an admirable goal to be innovative and engaging, supermarket merchants need to give up on the idea that shoppers have a burning desire to spend more time with them. Merchandise the best selling items to where shoppers can get them quickly. Design stores so that they are more intuitive and… Read more »
Lee Peterson
BrainTrust
For one thing, they’re over-assorted. There’s a 30,000 square foot Whole Foods near me and that store has everything. Traditional grocers take payola from CPG companies so their soup section, as an example, has 300+ SKUs and 20 some brands. It’s not necessary. As a merchant, I was always taught to make the edit for the customer, they’ll appreciate it. The problem with most grocers is that they’re NOT merchants, they’re procurement clerks, stocking whatever because the price or payola is good. That just doesn’t work anymore IMO. Why sort through all that? There’s a 100,000 square foot Kroger near me that has furniture and about 15 other categories they most likely know very little about or have established paltry consumer trust on. Subsequently, from a consumer perspective, it just makes the store more cumbersome for most of us and therefore extends the shopping trip, which is very low on our priority list. If we started by having grocery stores that were grocery stores vs trying to compete with Walmart on household goods, there’d be… Read more »
David Naumann
BrainTrust

When it comes to grocery shopping, I don’t think consumers are overly demanding. We all want a convenient and friendly shopping experience – the table stakes for grocers. Any thing above that is gravy.

Most grocers are falling down by continuing to cut staff. When I visit most grocery stores, I am not greeted by any of the staff I run across and, oftentimes, if I need help I can’t find anyone to ask.

A grocer that stands out as providing a great experience is Trader Joe’s. Everyone is super friendly and they make every shopping experience fun. I can usually find someone to offer assistance when needed, and even when the stores are extremely busy, the checkout seems to be efficient.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

The area of human contact may be the most important of all. People respond to pleasant, well-informed store associates, be they clerks, sampling folks, customer service people, cashiers, or others. Such contact makes for a friendly and pleasant shopping experience. Ironically, grocers are moving away from human contact with their interest in and testing of cashier-less stores, robots in the aisles, robot brand ambassadors, more self-service kiosks, and who knows what other techno-nonsense to be unveiled in the future. When you lose the human touch, you lose the shopper.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Let’s try this as an off the wall experiment. Taking a page from the Walmart book, recently edited. Walmart has/used to have a greeter welcoming you as you enter and leave the store. Costco and other warehouse stores have it, but for different reasons.
Let’s create a goodwill ambassador position. A person walking the store greeting customers and asking if they can assist them in any way. (Not the clerk filling the shelf. That person does not want to be interrupted and is quick to answer a question possibly not even looking at you.) My vision is an employee strictly there as a roamer interacting with the customer. Any added thoughts?

Balasubramanian Thiagarajan
Guest

Though I have practiced globally, I shop in India and at least from a local perspective, people still prefer the traditional mom and pop shops. Customers like to be addressed with a “namaste” and maybe even a polite enquiry about their health and that of their family. Sale at the marked prices is the norm (in grocery not when you buy vegetables from a street vendor) and customers happily pay this price because of the perceived personal touch. Imagine a supermarket in the US charging full price for anything (one only needs to look at the Saturday and the Sunday newspapers to realize how much discounting and couponing have become norm rather than an exception).

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Grocers always have to be on the lookout for the next opportunity to thrill shoppers."
"I don’t see the contemporary shopper seeking “experiences” from their local supermarket as much as they are seeking efficiency."
"When you lose the human touch, you lose the shopper."

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