Let's face it, supermarkets are an easy target for criticism.
They are ubiquitous and embedded in our culture. Almost everyone who enters a supermarket has strong opinions on what these retailers are doing well and poorly.
Lately some media outlets have been publishing negative appraisals of grocery stores.
"The classic supermarket is adrift, unsure of how to hold shoppers who are demanding nicer stores, organic produce, hearth-baked bread and artisan cheeses à all without paying too much," asserted an article in the New York Times late last month.
The article was part of a feature presentation called "Dreaming Up a New Supermarket." It included an artist's fantasy rendering of the ultimate dream store and two stories that pointed out supermarket shortcomings.
Supermarkets were also picked apart in the latest issue of Consumer Reports, which presented retail satisfaction rankings. An accompanying article offered secrets of grocery shopping success and painted a picture of retail organizations that don't always have the consumers' best interests in mind.
"Everything about the supermarket is designed to prolong your trip," the article warned.
"Try shopping clockwise" to avoid the typical counter-clockwise traffic pattern that stores have designed to encourage more lingering and additional purchases, it added.
"Beware of sneaky signs" that misrepresent special deals, the story advised.
There is a vigilante feeling to some media coverage of supermarkets. Shoppers are urged to take matters into their own hands because the stores aren't doing it for them. In one of the New York Times articles, the reporter set out to find wholesome, tasty food products in New York City stores amid aisles of mediocre choices. After much research and taste-testing, she revealed the pearls that were pulled from the vast sea of supermarket products.
What are we to make of all this coverage? It could be dismissed by criticizing the media outlets as inaccurate or biased. But that wouldn't be the best course because consumers share many of these same opinions. In fact, the New York Times' website invited readers to suggest what they would like to see in the supermarket of the future. The responses echoed the same complaints apparent in many news media stories.
How can supermarkets extinguish these perceptions and build a more positive image? One path is to take more control of the shoppers' experiences. Concede that stores can't fill all needs for everyone, but make clear to customers where the stores do excel. Edit selections to make them worthy of being associated with the store franchise.
There are other steps to take. Avoid creating the impression of being sneaky by making signage and marketing materials clearer, particularly as it relates to in-store deals. And on the most basic level, make sure to spruce up the stores because poor appearances merely further negative impressions.
Finally, after making improvements, retailers need to communicate them directly to shoppers. Relying on the media is not the best way to send this message.