business news in context, analysis with attitude

This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

The Retail Feedback Group (RFG) is out with its annual Supermarket Experience Study, specifically focusing on what retailers need to do in order to create a compelling in-store experience … and I have to say that I’m completely on-board with their conclusions, especially because the importance of creating a compelling store experience has been a constant theme around here for years.

In fact, it has been so constant that some folks have accused me of beating a dead horse. But I’d argue that what I’m really trying to do is keep the horse alive by pointing out that the old race was being run in the circles, and the new race has to be run into the future.

In order, the RFG recommendations are:

“Supermarkets are missing an opportunity to demonstrate food expertise.”

I don’t think there is any question about this - there is a clear and enormous difference between stores that have it and stores that don’t - it is a difference that you can see, smell, and taste. Plus, a food expertise is an advantage that physical stores, if they really work at it, and don’t cater to the lowest common denominator, can have over online retailers … though I’m absolutely, positively sure that more than one online retailer will manage to erase that advantage. But if you don’t work at it now, you have no hope in the future.

“In-store assortment is not meeting consumer demand in several trending categories.”

The RFG study suggests that “in general, shoppers are relatively satisfied with the selection of products offered in their supermarket.” But in certain “specific high-demand and differentiating categories – local, international/ethnic, natural/organic, allergen-free – consumer ratings are significantly lower.”

I actually think the problem is bigger than that - because most retailers do not know what’s in their warehouses, what’s in their stores and where the out-of-stock problems are - I think it can be argued that in-store assortment may not be meeting consumer demand in the vast majority of categories.

“Supermarkets are still geared for the wrong time of day.”

The conclusion here makes a lot of sense - that supermarkets are geared so that they look their best at 11 am, but “sales and customer volume are highest during the peak time between 3 PM and 7 PM.”

This illustrates something we’ve long talked about here on MNB - that too many chains and stores are built for their own operational needs and conveniences … not making the customer a priority. This is a problem that goes back decades, but too few stores have addressed it at a time when there is a lot less room for complacency. In fact, there is no room for complacency. None.

“Too many shoppers are leaving the store without pleasant human contact.”

Most companies and their leaders are judged on their ability to drive down their labor costs, no matter how important the human element may be. Most companies are using new technologies to get rid of jobs, rather than taking those people and putting them in the position of being customer influencers and ambassadors for the retail brand. And this is only going to get worse in most places, as technology gets better.

Retailers have a choice. Not every store is going to have the best technology, or the best food, or the best people. It is just not possible.

But it strikes me as critical that food retailers focus on these differentiating advantages if they are to have any chance of surviving over the long term.

It makes me think of something that Michael wrote about on Tuesday … you have to aspire.

It is, as he said, a six step process.

Aspire. Experiment. Innovate. Implement. Evaluate. Repeat.

That’s what is on my mind this morning and, as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: