Evolve or fail is a mantra grocers must adopt to ensure they survive in an ever-changing and highly competitive landscape. In a world where the products grocers sell and the services they provide are becoming more commoditized, ensuring customers have a positive and memorable experience each time they shop with you can be the core differentiator when they decide where to conduct their weekly shopping.
The term “customer experience” is not new – but the definition changes constantly these days as consumers define what good customer service means to them. Fortunately, some consistent themes have emerged. At a brand level, convenience, price, selection, and both on-site and online assistance matter. However, gaining the ultimate competitive edge requires breaking down the experience you offer a bit more.
There are three imperatives that every grocer must focus on to gain a competitive advantage in “experience.” These are imperatives by objective measures and represent current expectations customers have of best-in-class grocers. If you haven’t implemented these strategies, now is the time.
Imperative #1 – Create an Omnichannel Approach
We all lead busy lives, so as consumers we expect to find the items we seek with ease so our shopping experience can continue without delay. This requires creating an omnichannel approach to grocery shopping that maximizes customer convenience. Four elements are required:
Attractive presentation. When a customer walks into a store, they should see a well-planned and expertly run operation. Attractive product displays, clear signage, clean floors and shelves, and prominent displays of popular and sale items all contribute to a strong first impression when customers arrive, before they even see or interact with staff members.
A commitment to service. Staffing has been difficult for most grocers this past year, but the availability of team members to answer customer questions and maintain a sense of stability in your stores is critical. Positive interaction between staff and customers builds trust and loyalty. Utilizing in-store evaluators can measure how well your stores are maintaining service to customers so you can coach and commend your teams.
Maximize convenience with your website and online apps.Consumers who shop online can have different expectations than in-store shoppers. Informative product pages with a clean, easy-to-follow navigation style should be the hallmark of your website and app. Comparison shopping amongst similar products from different brands should be easy as well. Linking your rewards program to customer profiles on your app and website incentives customers to shop with you knowing they can instantly apply rewards to their next purchase.
Streamline your pickup and delivery processes.Since the onset of the pandemic, adoption of grocery pickup and delivery has skyrocketed, both for safety reasons and the incredible convenience of these services. Around 137 million Americans are expected to purchase groceries online in 2021. Your customers need to feel confident that they can find what they need on your app or website, and that the order will be ready for pickup or delivered within the selected window of time. These services are a worthwhile investment in long-term customer loyalty and positive word of mouth in the communities you serve.
Imperative #2 – Prioritizing Safety and Trust
While the pandemic has been a game changer for grocers in many ways, cleanliness and safety have always been critical components of the in-store shopping experience. Recently, the definition of “safety” has been expanded to include even greater emphasis on limiting the spread of indoor germs, adding to the constant priority of maintaining a clean facility.
Cleanliness is the common factor among all top-rated U.S. grocery stores according to a 2019 Consumer Reports study – emphasizing the importance of this standard even before COVID arrived. Cleanliness should be apparent in every aisle, at every counter and checkout line, and in public restrooms. Even the parking lot needs to be free of loose carts and debris, with waste cans emptied on a regular basis.
Every customer needs to feel safe and secure in your stores. Keeping cart wipes visible and continually in supply is becoming a standard expectation for many customers. Cleaning and safety protocols should be posted and visible to employees and consumers alike.
Imperative #3 – Rely on Data to Know Exactly What Your Customers Want
This may seem like a “well sure” statement, but truly understanding your customers is about subjectivity and accurately sourced data. Consumers have more ways to make their opinions known than ever before through online customer care, in-app and text surveys, focus groups, and in-person interviews.
As tough as it may be to hear where opportunities for change are noticeable, the key is to listen, record, and measure the results, comparing your brand’s performance to any insight you can garner on your competitors’ performance on the same standards. Don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk if the data suggests it will give you a competitive advantage.
By taking these steps, your stores will be well positioned to provide an excellent customer experience for all shoppers – locking in their repeat business and securing your market share while supporting bottom-line growth goals. But be prepared to react quickly as consumer sentiment changes. Your level of customer loyalty may depend on your versatility to change course.