How Do Shoppers and Retailers View One Another?

Studies bring to light perceptions of helpfulness, civility
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
New surveys reveal that shoppers and workers alike have some concerns about their interactions.

Sentiment, often measured by research studies, sometimes extends to people in the retail environment. On that topic, recent polling data shows that personal sentiment on both sides of the grocery aisle is as up and down as it is in other areas of the business.

As shoppers have largely returned to in-store shopping, one new survey from mobile communication platform Theatro showed that 41% of shoppers found their experience “less enjoyable” than before the pandemic. Of that minority-opinion group, 60% cited inadequate staffing levels and 64% called out staff that did not seem to be well prepared or trained. 

[Read more: "Shoppers Weigh In on Most Popular Grocers"]

The "Theatro 2023 Retail Customer Experience Survey," conducted by third-party research firm Pollfish, also revealed that more than a third of respondents (39%) reported that their encounters with staff included “a lack of helpfulness or willingness to assist.”

As 91% of those polled said they do at least half of all their shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, they said they prefer in-person shopping because they can see and feel products and appreciate the immediate gratification of bringing products home. "Consumers prefer physical retail for lots of reasons," said Chris Todd, CEO of Richardson, Texas-based Theatro. "But they’ve also become even more accustomed to the benefits of e-commerce, such as convenience and the ability to research products and get questions answered quickly. Retailers must respond to these heightened expectations or suffer the consequences of decreased shopper satisfaction and, ultimately, sales."

While this particular survey highlighted shopper sentiment about their experience in stores and with store team members, other research calls out post-pandemic consumer behaviors. A recent survey fielded by Georgetown University professor Christine Porath and published in the Harvard Business Review showed that 76% of frontline employees experience incivility and 78% witness incivility once a month. A similar number (73%) report that it is not unusual for customers to behave badly and 78% report that bad behavior from customers to employees is more frequent than it was five years ago.

Porath cites stress, weakened community ties, negative emotions and a disconnectedness due to technology and social media as factors behind the sometimes-fraying relationships between workers and customers. “Often we’re too busy scrolling through Instagram or listening to music on our headphones to interact with those serving us or ringing up our groceries — much less to utter a simple 'Hello,' 'Please' or 'Thank you',” she wrote.

As civility plays out in different ways at the store level, additional research underscores the all-important factor of trust – which encompasses products, people and many other attributes – in driving and keeping shoppers in physical locations. According to the "2022 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends" report from FMI – The Food Industry Association and The Hartman Group, 39% of consumers say they “like” or “love” the grocery shopping experience and 90% trust their grocer to provide safe food.

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