The Power Of Suggestion

Your associates may know about your products, but are they selling them?

The health and success of any store (and its parent company) come down to the overall customer experience. But how do you apply metrics to the customer experience in such as way that it can be benchmarked?

Progressive Grocer has teamed up with New York-based ICC/Decision Services to establish a benchmark program designed to measure the "total" customer experience. Throughout 2013, more than 100,000 data points will be collected and analyzed among the nation's top national, regional, independent and specialty grocers, and, beginning with this month's research findings on suggestive selling, results of the PG/ICC STRONG study will be published on a regular basis throughout the year.

The elements of the STRONG study are as follows:

Adding One Basket Item

The topic of discussion this month is suggestive selling, with the goal of increasing basket size. Increasing store sales is a consistent goal for every operator, big, small or in between. There's an opportunity with every customer to add at least one additional item to her basket. Simply increasing the suggestive selling rate by 10 percent can result in that store's chain gaining an additional $1,092 million in revenue, according to ICC/Decision Services. However, the research also revealed that associate knowledge of the products within a particular department wasn't synonymous with suggestive selling. In fact, there were some cases in which associates demonstrated a deep knowledge of their departments, but there was little or no suggestive selling.

"Retailers must implement customer service policies that drive revenue, and then check for consistent application through compliance auditing," says ICC/Decision Services CEO David Rich. "This means training in suggestive selling, cross-selling techniques and customer relationship building. Great customer service and well-timed suggestions can do wonders for retail revenue."

ICC/Decision Services evaluated multiple service-related departments in each store chain to cover an array of suggestive-selling scenarios. Evaluations were made in the meat and bakery departments. Field representatives inquired about products in each of these service departments and observed whether any selling suggestions or product recommendations were made.

The meat department was one area in which product knowledge definitely wasn't synonymous with increased levels of suggestive selling. As a group, specialty retailers led in providing meat preparation recommendations (Table 1a), with 78 percent of associates doing so. However, the channel ranked last in meat selling suggestions, with only 18 percent of associates trying to increase the shopper's basket (Table 1b).

Among the individual chains measured, one West Coast regional grocer had the highest recommendation rate, at 94 percent. On the other side of the spectrum, one national chain had the greatest opportunity to benefit from sharing prep knowledge, doing it only 19 percent of the time.

Independents had the top rate of suggestive selling for additional items in the meat department, with the average associate upselling 30 percent of the time. This isn't surprising when you consider that many independents have full-service meat departments with trained butchers on staff to differentiate themselves from the competition. Among the specialty retailers surveyed were discount retailers with no full-service meat departments, and therefore no one on hand to do suggestive selling.

The bakery department demonstrated the highest discrepancy between overall product knowledge and a retailer's ability to sell it. Bakery associates across all of the channels showed a high degree of product knowledge (Table 2a), with an average of 96 percent able to answer product questions asked by the field survey reps. However, while they may have confidently answered all bakery questions, they didn't capitalize on this by offering product recommendations or suggestive selling of any kind (Table 2b).

Eric Baer is a research analyst at ICC/Decision Services. He can be reached at [email protected].


To ensure the capture of a diverse and representative store sample, New York-based ICC/Decision Services selected five chains within each of the following defined store categories:

National: Food retailers (including mass or discount chains offering food) on a national scale

Regional: Food retailers with stores spanning multiple states, or a select region of the United States

Independents: Smaller-sized chains ranging from a dozen stores to no more than 40 stores

Specialty: Ethnic food stores, natural/organic chains, or extreme-value food retailers

Feedback from each store chain is gathered throughout each of their operating markets, with professional field representatives visiting stores as typical shoppers. Each representative measures the experience through defined questions and scenarios.

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