What customers want from grocery retailers

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on August 2, 2011

What customers want from grocery retailers

Grocery retailers' checkout lanes and lines, selection of fresh products, and overall customer service are at the top of the list of frustrations that consumers say 'never meet their expectations', according to the 2011 Consumer Insights Panel survey in North America, conducted by Empathica.

The survey of more than 16,000 consumers in the US and Canada found that, while an overwhelming 97% of consumers said that they value good customer service at a grocery store, 44% said that today's grocery stores aren't delivering on that expectation.

"It's important for grocery stores and supermarkets to focus on developing excellent customer experiences today," said Brian Jones, vice president of Grocery and Consumer Packaged Goods at Empathica. "Supermarket chains, in particular, often maintain similar prices and offerings. Experiences are what differentiate one retailer from the next. Understanding the key elements of the experience that drive loyalty can give a supermarket the edge, enabling them to build out better offerings."

The survey looked specifically at what consumers value in their grocery experience, and how those expectations are being met (or not) by grocery stores. The results revealed that grocery store qualities that continue to disappoint and "never" or "only sometimes" meet their expectations included:

  1. Checkout lanes and lines (55.9%);  
  2. Customer service (44.1%);  
  3. Selection of fresh meats (42.2%);  
  4. Selection of fruits and vegetables (42.1%);  
  5. Selection of fresh seafood (41.7%);  
  6. Modern, updated stores (41.5%).

While grocery retailers do face a number of challenges in delivering the optimal customer experience, the research showed that when asked specifically about their grocer of choice, consumers are generally satisfied, with more than half of respondents (57%) indicating that their primary grocer is increasingly making active attempts to cater to their needs.

The survey also showed that delivering an excellent grocery experience is increasingly important for word-of-mouth (WoM) marketing. Nearly three-quarters of consumers said they would promote a grocery store or share positive experiences with others if they had a great experience. Seventy-two percent of women and 66% of men indicated they would make a recommendation if they had a great experience.

Men and women differ in their actions and expectations of grocery experiences in other ways as well. The study found that, while having knowledgeable employees is the most significant factor contributing to a great grocery experience, women valued this slightly more than men. Seventy-two percent of women and 65% of men feel it's 'very important' for employees to be knowledgeable about the products they sell. Similarly, 69% of women feel that having employees available to answer questions is a very important aspect of the shopping experience. Fewer men (59%) consider this to be very important.

"Employees should understand that consumers have different expectations for service," explained Jones. "If grocery stores are going to deliver more personalised service, they need to be equipped with an understanding of the products they are selling, not just knowing how to direct customers to find and buy them efficiently. This is particularly important in serving women, it seems."

Finally, the survey noted that 23% of women indicated that "an easy-to-use website" is very important to them, while only 17% of men feel the same way. Similarly, 14% of women and only 11% of men believe that in-store information kiosks offering product information, coupons and recipes are very important.

"It can be a challenge for grocers to manage an environment that has a distinct fault line across age, gender and other characteristics like loyalty," said Jones. "Some consumers may demand engagement and new experiences at grocery stores, while those who have been loyal for years often resist change. Grocers must consider all demographics by having regular contact with customers and obtaining feedback directly."

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