Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Satisfying the Grocery Shopper

What stands out when you compare your shopping experience at various supermarkets these days? One thing jumps out at me... how my groceries are bagged. At most supermarkets, someone throws all my groceries in bags, without any rhyme or reason as to how products are placed. If I've forgotten my reusable bags, then I always have to intervene, lest they put 2 items per plastic bag and fill my carriage with hundreds of nearly empty bags. Regardless of what types of bags they use, I am sure to find several things crushed at the bottom of a bag when I get home.

Now, let's compare that experience to the checkout counters at Whole Foods. There, we see incredible attention being paid to how products are placed in bags. The associates take great care to insure that products do not get crushed in the bags, and that berries and other small items don't spill in the bags. Of course, you might say that Whole Foods can afford to offer such service because of their higher prices and gross margins. However, I wonder... Does it really take more time for the Whole Foods associates to get me through the checkout counter? It seems to me that they are just as efficient as any other supermarket, yet they offer a much better experience. Whole Foods just seems to be taking the time to train their associates more carefully, and perhaps monitor them more effectively. Yes, this does involve some extra expense, but the results in terms of enhanced customer satisfaction are likely to be quite substantial.

I write about this small element of the grocery shopping experience only to point out that the checkout counter often is a defining moment in our retail experience these days. Often, it is the ONLY time that we interact with a store associate, given that most retailers are largely self-service these days. Thus, the checkout counter interaction is a critical moment where retailers can set themselves apart from their competition. It's also a moment when retailers can cause the consumer experience to deteriorate dramatically. Too many retailers, it seems, have focused on making the checkout process fast, cheap, and efficient. However, they have done so at the expense of actually creating a satisfying "closing" experience for the shopper as they head for home.


moylan7 said...

While training and effective monitoring likely play a role in improving the Whole Foods check out experience, I think it probably has more to do with personnel differences at the entry levels. The average clerk at Whole Foods is of a different caliber then the average grocery store clerk in general. The seemingly obvious explanation for this disparity would be compensation, however, all else equal (training, monitoring, compensation) I believe Whole Foods is likely to still attract a more motivated and committed employee. This is due to the company’s image. Whole Foods has a mission that goes beyond just sales (at least it appears that way). Whole Foods looks to provide healthy and organic food items to consumers at a reasonable price. Employees can relate to this mission and therefore Whole Foods. This creates a disparity in the quality of Whole Foods workers that is greater than just monetary compensation would dictate. For this reason working for Whole Foods does not have the same stigma surrounding it as other grocers.

Michael Roberto said...

Great point. Self-selection is definitely part of the story. However, I also know that the metrics differ across these grocers. Many mainstream grocers focus on items scanned per minute as a metric for clerks at the checkout, often without counterbalancing this with other service-oriented metrics. Thus, they are, in effect, rewarding speed at the expense of other elements of service.