What do customers really want?

Not everything that happens in the “macro-retail” world directly correlates to the natural products retail world. This morning November retail numbers for the “macro-retail” world were released. They included Black Friday sales and were seen as an indicator of how strong sales for the holiday season will be. Yes – it is retail data, but, no, probably not an indicator of how things are going in our world!

Two surveys came out this week, however, that were “macro” in nature, but give some insights that savvy natural products retailers can use!

The first one, the 2009 Retail Service Quality Index, published by the Salt and Pepper group, grades how well customers rate the service that they receive in the retail marketplace – across all formats and channels. (The executive summary of this survey is found at: tinyurl.com/yato7o3.)

The aggregate grade that was given to the retail world was abysmally low – 48.2 out of a possible 100.

Does this mean that the typical natural products retail store provides service this poor? No. Of course not, but it does show us that with other retail stores that your customers are frequenting giving such poor service, you have a chance to shine, shine, shine!
Taking good care of customers is always a wise thing to do, but now it is even wiser – it is going to be much more noticeable with what people are experiencing in the other stores that they frequent.

The second survey, which was reported in the California Consumer Blog on the LA Times website, talks about the increases in coupon redemption. This is the first such increase since early in the 1990’s. (tinyurl.com/dl277b). This blog also makes reference of the research that Nielsen has done on coupon redemption’s recent increases. (tinyurl.com/ykdrx9e)

Again, not data that is rooted in the natural products world – but data about consumer spending habits in the marketplace as a whole. What are its implications for our stores?

I don’t see this as a call for a knee-jerk reaction for discounting. That is a fight that we can’t win. Our economies of scale are simply not geared for us to be the low-price providers in our markets. Our purchase volume is too low to compete with large, national chains; our commitment to staffing and service (and the wages that we provide) is too high. (Let’s not get into leases, insurance, marketing, etc.!)

I do see this, however, as a sign that there is continued concern over household expenses in the marketplace and that this concern is not only manifest in large purchases, but also in day to day ones. Having commodity items, the staples that are highly visible items, at aggressive prices will help connect with shoppers and their economic concerns.

If we focus on providing excellent service, combined with aggressive pricing on key items, we will be able to have our stores connect with customers in areas that they have identified as vital.

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