Natural Foods Merchandiser

Improving customer experience

Bullwinkle: "Well, this is a pickle ... Actually, it's more of a kumquat."

In an episode of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, our moose hero, Mr. Know-It-All, tries to teach us how to sell a vacuum cleaner. To make big money, he says, all you need to know is how to tell the "customore" from the "customee."

We all laugh, but amid double-digit growth in the natural products industry, some stores are quietly dying. The owner glares from behind the register and blames the Wal-Mart down the street for stealing all the customores. But a look at these stores' operations too often reveals a Bullwinkle-like level of incompetence.

For this issue of The Natural Foods Merchandiser, we focused on the customer experience. A look at other media might convince you that to keep shoppers happy, you need to install self-checkouts and free wireless Internet, sell 300 handmade Andalusian cheeses, and put a chocolate fountain at center store, manned by Nigella Lawson.

Think lower on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, much lower. People come to your store because they need to eat. They want to be healthy. They want to feel welcomed in a pleasant way with nice people.

Rocky: "Hey Bullwinkle, we're in real trouble now!"

Bullwinkle: "Oh good, Rocky! I hate that artificial kind!"

In an April 2005 report, Forrester Research's Nate Root writes, "Retailers treat customer experience as an afterthought." Ninety-seven percent of decision-makers at 28 large retailers said that improving customer satisfaction was either "critical" or "very important." But only 21 percent chose "raising customer satisfaction" as their most important objective, compared with 71 percent who said "increasing sales from existing customers" or "expanding customer base." They seek to sell more merchandise to more people, without caring whether those customers are happy.

Forrester's respondents are your competitors. How can you do it better?

Naturals customers seek authenticity. It starts with product knowledge and an understanding of who your customers are and what they want. This month in the Business & Operations section, we tackle problems ranging from unmotivated employees to bad parking.

When a shopping experience works, customers come back and tell their friends. Employees ask shoppers what they think because they're not afraid to hear the answer. And everywhere on your selling floor, appealing and beautifully displayed merchandise beckons to customers and says, in the words of Rocket J. Squirrel: "And now, here's something we hope you'll really like. …"

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 74

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