Why do people choose to shop at one grocery store and not another? If you can answer that question for certain, you’ll strike it rich. Alas, most of us can only take educated guesses as to what makes shoppers decide.
Prices? Certainly they count. Cheerful employees? Yes, probably. But how happy must staff be to have a noticeable effect? Is not grumpy good enough? Or are Donny Osmond-sized smiles required to do the trick?
Other variables come into play, of course. Hours of operation, for example, selection, cleanliness, a stellar produce offer, the pharmacy, the meat counter and checkout times, to name a few. How important are each of these? We simply do not know for sure. But maybe we don’t need to fret about every single one of these factors as much as we think.
To understand, let me draw your attention to a survey by Leger Marketing, the polling and research firm. Every year, Leger asks consumers in Quebec and Ontario about the customer experience at retailers they frequent.
Based on that feedback, stores are ranked as to how well they perform in shoppers’ eyes. The survey encompasses many stores in several retail categories, so Leger is able to determine which grocers score highest with consumers.
In the most recent survey, Metro was No. 1 in Quebec and Longo’s came out on top in Ontario. No surprise there. Metro is a powerhouse in La Belle Province and Quebecers clearly enjoy shopping at its stores. Longo’s only has 25 stores, all in the Toronto area, but the family-owned chain is known far and wide for its peerless execution and superb fresh offering.
But I wondered, What do stores that scored high in the survey do better than all the rest? I called Christian Bourque, Leger’s executive vice-president to find out. Leger’s study, Bourque told me, examines about 17 shopping variables, from price to signage, from customer service to time spent at the checkout.
Not all of these are valued equally by everyone. For example, everyday low prices are more important to Ontarians than Quebecers. But generally, one factor comes up again and again as being the most important.
What is it? Time.
At certain types of retailers (bookstores or shoe shops, for instance), people don’t mind moseying through casually. But grocery shopping is an oft-repeated task. People buy food once, twice, sometimes three times a week. Saving time is important.
To help customers shop quickly and effectively, Bourque says pay attention to store design, merchandising and, above all else, directional and POS signage. These have the greatest impact on shopper efficiency. “Whether people are satisfied with their grocery store depends a lot on design, signs and silent selling,” he says.
One way grocers try to save shoppers time is through a speedy checkout. Investing further in this part of your store may have limited return, however. Leger found that, at most stores, consumers are already content with how quickly they are served at the cash.
“So getting people through 20 seconds faster may make little difference in their perception of a store,” Bourque says.
Another variable that doesn’t matter as much as we may think is staff-customer interaction. Yes, high-end supermarkets rely on knowledgeable butchers and such. But in most stores, in most situations, people aren’t keen to slam the brakes on their cart for a little kibitzing.
Overall, consumers don’t ask for much during a typical grocery trip. They want good prices and promotions, and design and signs that help them navigate efficiently through the store.
“They want to be able to say, ‘I got in and out in 25 minutes, I found everything I needed and got some deals along the way,’ ” Bourque says.
Rob Gerlsbeck is Canadian Grocer's editor.