One of the biggest dangers for any business is to assume their customers feel appreciated. It's easy to make this mistake. Supermarkets know that in recent years they've lowered prices, unveiled EDLP programs, enhanced loyalty initiatives, expanded self-checkout and pursued many other customer-friendly efforts. Surely consumers must feel appreciated by now.
Not so fast. A new report based on consumer research found that many customers still don't see it that way.
The Consumer Network, a 30-year-old organization that maintains an extensive consumer panel, recently surveyed its respondents on this topic and just unveiled the results.
Mona Doyle, president of the organization, summed up the findings this way: “Not many retailers are doing a good job of customer appreciation. There's an opportunity here because people want to feel appreciated.”
Mona's report is more about qualitative than quantitative results. It doesn't attempt to report findings based on percentages. Instead, the value is in consumer verbatims about how appreciated they feel. Many said they don't feel the store's gratitude, citing difficult shopping environments and deceptive promotions.
More instructive were comments from those consumers who did feel appreciated. They tended to point to relatively simple practices by stores they shopped, such as allowing customers to sample fresh produce before buying; making the returns process easy; and quickly stocking requested items. These customers weren't clamoring for newfangled, 21st-century strategies, but rather for practices that presumably have been around since the dawn of retailing.
One of the best shopper testimonials focused not on a conventional grocer but rather on Whole Foods. It came from a consumer who had just taken a bag of cut salad back to the retailer because the product appeared damaged. This person wanted the store to complain to the supplier, and the ensuing experience led to glowing feedback. According to the respondent, a department manager conceded it's possible Whole Foods actually could have caused the problem by letting the product sit too long on a pallet in hot weather.
“That's the first time a supermarket person ever admitted that they might be at fault,” wrote this consumer. “I'm so impressed.”
Moreover, this associate insisted on paying for a far more expensive item in the shopper's basket because “your satisfaction is very important to us.”
Shoppers were also asked whether online social networking efforts by retailers might make customers feel more appreciated by keeping them informed. The responses indicate that consumers are lukewarm about these strategies and prefer more personal communications.
What's the upshot of this survey? My take is that its findings are useful and will have the biggest impact after the recession. At that point consumers will be somewhat less price-focused and more willing to consider altering their choices of food retailers. Attributes such as customer appreciation efforts will play a bigger role and probably impact the level of shopper flight.
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