Grocery Stores in a Digital World: Customer Service is Key


We live in a brave new world of online transactions, where many brick and mortar stores have lost their centuries-old edge for winning over consumers. In the sea of declining retailers, grocery stores have stood the test of the internet better than most other brick and mortar stores. However, despite grocery stores’ persistence through the internet revolution, one thing remains clear: customer service is crucial to the grocery store experience.

Grocery stores remained standing strong in the world of online retail. They sell non-durable goods that, in many cases, have a short shelf-life. This means that customers need to regularly return to purchase more products. Troublesome for eCommerce, short shelf-life items are often expensive to ship, and consumers can be reluctant to choose a cut of meat from an online store, rather than picking in-person.

Moreover, these are not just any products. This is food we are talking about - a necessary purchase. These are not luxury items that are bought on a whim. Additionally, visits to a grocery store are not often impulsive - they are usually part of a routine. Shoppers make their weekly trip to the grocer, unlike they do with almost any other type of retailer. It’s because of these factors that grocers have largely insulated themselves from many of the effects of the online onslaught - for now.

Grocery stores still face many of the same challenges that existed in the pre-online world. Low profit margins on products are a constant issue. Additionally, product differentiation from store to store is very difficult to achieve. Four grocery stores in the same town generally will have the same types produce, meats, canned and boxed goods, and milk. One way to differentiate products is to focus on the quality of the goods, offering premium cuts of meat, a rare fish selection, and a selection of organic products. However, quality food products also carry higher costs, making them less affordable to the average consumer and possibly increasing unsellable, spoiled goods. eCommerce or not, these are issues that are ever-present in the grocery business.

These evergreen concerns partnered with innovations brought about from online purchasing have complicated many aspects of the grocery store experience. Consumers now have a set of expectations that online retail has ingrained into them. Finding products should be quick and easy, questions should be answered quickly, and paying for products should be seamless.  While these concerns have always existed, online retailing has accentuated these needs for consumers that carries over into a brick and mortar store. Consumers, in many ways, are conditioned to think this way, and the key is that these expectations hinge largely on the quality of customer service.

Ultimately, the best way for stores to differentiate themselves is through superior customer service that leaves the shopper satisfied with their experience. A recent survey of customers at a grocery store found that 97% of customers value good customer service, yet 44% of customers feel that their expectations are not being met. Even more critical is a recent trend in survey data showing that supermarket consumer satisfaction is trending downward, decreasing 3% from 2014-2015. Whether or not this is the result of more demanding consumers or declining customer service is irrelevant. The customer is always right and now has more options given online shopping. Engaging customers and improving support need to be a top priority for grocers in the age of online retail.

Traditional efforts to connect with and understand shoppers may include online surveys advertised on receipts or personalized emails sent to members of a store’s club card. However, since grocery store purchases are part of a weekly routine, the experience is often not memorable enough to result in strong participation in these traditional efforts. Capturing in-store data provides not only the most immediate data, but allows for the highest participation levels.

Icebergh offers grocers a unique in-store platform to accurately measure customer feedback. Built on Artificial Intelligence, Icebergh goes a step further, analyzing demographics and emotions without asking additional demographic questions, therefore cutting down on the time it takes for shoppers to respond to the survey.

Instead of gleaning customer feedback through a traditional channel that has a low response rate and requires shoppers to make efforts after they leave the store, Icebergh provides grocers with an opportunity to collect real-time feedback in multiple sections of a store. Is the meat department up to snuff? Are customers annoyed by the deli wait times? Do shoppers think the checkout clerks are efficient? These questions, and many more, were previously difficult to accurately measure on a large scale. Now through Icebergh, grocers have the ability to do so.

Grocery stores are surviving the new world brought about by online retailing. Still, connecting with consumers and ensuring they enjoy their experience is essential. The process should be smooth and efficient, yet trends indicate that is often not the case. At a time when consumers universally value quality customer service in their grocery store experience, these stores must take the time to understand shoppers’ needs and exceed their expectations.

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