"I don't trust you anymore."
"You've become so arrogant."
"I no longer find you attractive."
"Basically, you're a mess."
There comes a time—for lovers and shoppers—when they just have to face it: The love is gone. The Natural Foods Merchandiser commissioned a recent survey to find out the reasons why they decided to change the outlets where they purchase their natural products. Twenty-two percent of the people surveyed said that in the past year they had been disappointed enough with a particular store to stop shopping there. But why? How does this happen?
The survey revealed that many of the motives are similar to reasons why people leave personal relationships: trust, attitude, looks and organization. Customers no longer trust that the food will always be fresh. They get the cold shoulder from sales help. They're disturbed by disorganized aisles and messy shelves.
The survey targeted "dedicated naturals consumers," who favor natural products supermarkets, natural products stores or vitamin, mineral and/or supplements shops. They indicated that though they preferred these types of outlets, on average they spend no more than half of their total budget for natural, organic or health products there. The rest of that budget goes to other stores and other types of retail channels. In other words, individual store managers could double store sales by capturing more wallet share from other types of stores.
How to do this? Focus on the service variables customers value most. For natural products supermarkets, the top five were, in order of importance: product freshness, store environment, product selection, helpfulness/courtesy and staff knowledgeability. For vitaminherb/supplement stores the top five were product freshness, product selection, helpfulness/courtesy, staff knowledgeability and staff availability. For natural foods stores, the most important component was, again, product freshness, followed by staff knowledgeability, helpfulness/courtesy, store environment and items in stock.
Sometimes, shoppers said they switched stores after noticing changes over time. "They had gotten very snobby, including some of the checkers and the counter help," says Ann Hanson of Wisconsin. For Arlen Donders, of New York, the situation went from bad to horrific at his natural foods store. "The store had become too dirty and crowded and wasn't worth going to anymore. The final straw was when I saw a rat. I complained to the manager, and nothing was done."
Several respondents noted the importance of the quality of the personnel. "I'm willing to pay more for better products," says Stacy Duff of Pennsylvania, "but I want the best service. Courtesy, knowledgeability—the store I went to did not have it." Other people remarked not on the attitude of staff, but on the lack of staff in general. Patricia Quinones, for example, switched stores because of a "lack of personnel." For other store switchers, it wasn't the lack of personnel, but the lack of the stores' ability to stock favorite items that drove them away. "They were out of what I wanted 75 percent of the time," says Manish Shah of New Jersey.
A more expansive variety of high-quality merchandise drew shoppers to other stores as well. After having twins, Sherrie Weinberg of California began paying more attention to the quality of the products she bought for her children. "I wanted to get the best for them as humanly possible," she says. She found it difficult to consistently find the items she was looking for at the stores where she generally shopped—Vons and Ralph's—so she sought out alternatives. Now, she splits her shopping between Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, where she says the organic items are more organized and easier to locate. "I don't have to hunt for things," she says. "Whole Foods has better organic produce and a better meat department, but Trader Joe's has certain staples I like."
Keeping these comments in mind, and understanding what builds consumer loyalty in general, will help keep your relationship with them—and your business—healthy.
Shara Rutberg is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 8/p. 26