Natural Foods Merchandiser

Create a convenient store

Everybody talks about the need to make your store convenient. But what does that mean? Location, location, location is a given. Kid-friendly shopping carts and products have appeal for young parents. And tools for the time-starved have become standard fare, from grab-and-go dinners to pre-washed, pre-cut, ready-to-toss salad makings.

But what else does convenience mean?

?When you ask a consumer about what?s convenient to them, you may not really know what they?re thinking about,? says James Tenser, a retail expert with VSN Strategies of Tucson, Ariz. ?Convenience is not always the same thing for every shopper for every trip to the store.?

Tenser identifies ?six factors of time? that encompass convenient shopping: time to access (location, location, location); time to search (store layout and assortment); time to transact (checkout); time to possess (physically get one?s hands on the merchandise—a bigger issue in online or catalog shopping); time of operation (days and hours of operation); and time of return (for refund or credit).

?The reality is, nobody has 100 percent of anybody,? he says. But if a retailer can pick up a few percentage points of existing customers? regular needs, that translates into ?a big shift in share,? better profitability and a bigger average ring from the same number of customers.

As a sociological experiment of sorts, The Natural Foods Merchandiser staff toured a large conventional supermarket in suburban Longmont, Colo., in December with a dedicated naturals shopper of many years? standing. He was stunned—and not just by the aerosol cheese and endless meat cases. (?Do all supermarkets have this much meat?? he asked before heading to the soymilk display to decompress.)

He came away with a long list of things he?d like to see in his neighborhood natural grocery: the guy giving away daily papers and selling discounted subscriptions, the branch bank, the assortment of kitchen gadgets and household items, cashiers who sell stamps and money orders.

?Why not have a pharmacy?? he said. ?Why not have DVD rental? Why don?t naturals stores sell light bulbs??

Even to a full-time occupant of the veggie-eating, yoga-doing, progressive-voting Boulder Bubble, convenience equals one-stop shopping.

?We view that as satisfying unmet needs,? says John Hennessy of ConceptShopping, a consulting firm in suburban Chicago. ?Filling in those staples doesn?t just sell those staples. It takes them out of a trip somewhere else.?

Hennessy and Tenser both comment that small-store operators have a huge untapped mine of shopper information in the form of transaction data that can be analyzed to identify behavior patterns. ?A lot of small retailers feel, ?That?s beyond me,? but it?s really not,? Tenser says. ?With a little help, you get actionable [ideas].?

It?s a myth, Hennessy says, that demographic data has to be attached to transaction data to make it relevant. A store can issue anonymous discount cards out of a basket on the service desk. Those anonymous cards don?t have to know a shopper?s name or address to keep track of purchases and tailor offers on the things the customer using the discount card actually buys.

Such a program has worked in Northern California, a region where—like the naturals industry—people are more concerned than usual about privacy. The shopper gets discounts based on actual purchase history, and the store builds customer profiles that, while anonymous, are useful.

?People appreciate someone taking the time to cut through the clutter,? Hennessy says. And once store operators have a profile of the high-quality, large-basket customer, product assortment and promotions can be tailored to keep that anonymous but very important person happy.

Ted Bauer, director of business development at Design Services Group, a retail design consulting firm in Eden Prairie, Minn., says retailers ?need to do something different that gets attention and makes [shopping] easier.?

Bauer says he wishes more supermarkets would move away from the universal design model that forces shoppers to navigate long aisles of impulse items to get to the dairy section at the farthest corner of the store. ?We treat them like rats,? he says. ?They have to run a maze to get to the cheese.?

Consultant Doug Fleener of Dynamic Experiences Group in Lexington, Mass., wonders why nobody puts shopping carts or handbaskets at the back of the store. The shopper who runs in to get ?one or two things? doesn?t get a cart or basket, and succumbs to impulse buys on the way to the milk case, thus has no extra hand for the milk or any further impulse buys.

?It?s a great illustration that store operators think operationally, rather than thinking from a customer perspective,? he says. Not having baskets in random places throughout the store ?limits how much the customer ends up buying.?

Fleener wants retailers to pay attention. ?Watch your customers. Think like a customer,? he says. ?Retailers have a tendency to focus internally, on what they do and what they sell, rather than on their customers and what?s going on in their lives.?

Sainsbury?s supermarket chain in the United Kingdom noticed its customers were becoming taller and more male. So the supermarket chain will replace its entire fleet of trolleys (what we call grocery carts). The new model boasts a curved handle that will work for both the tall and the short, Sainsbury?s says.

Tenser believes the basics of convenience are that of service: friendly and knowledgeable help, a well-managed front end, proper stocking and cleanliness. Where small naturals retailers can stand out is in knowledge and commitment to customers and quality products. ?Retail managers do well to break convenience down into its factors,? he says. ?Then you get closer to the things you can control.

?Remember, convenience is your customer?s convenience, not your managerial convenience,? he adds. ?And when in doubt, you ask them.?

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 2/p. 14, 16

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