Supermarket operators spend a lot of time doing nice things for their customers: Promotions are arranged; prices are consistently competitive, or reduced; ads are run, and so on.
But do customers appreciate, or even understand, what all these activities are all about? Maybe not. At least so it seemed during an amusing -- and distressing -- segment of a "Speaks '98" presentation at last week's convention of the Food Marketing Institute in Chicago.
Speaks is the FMI's showiest event, a multimedia presentation intended to show opportunities and challenges the industry faces. The event was moderated by Michael Sansolo, the FMI's senior vice president. You'll find full coverage of the event beginning on Page 1 of this week's SN.
One element of Speaks that was particularly engaging was premised on video-taped interviews with shoppers at a supermarket in Oklahoma City. The tape was presented to the large audience by John S. Runyan, corporate senior vice president for Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City.
The video presented reporting-style interviews of shoppers at a supermarket to determine how effective various in-store merchandising techniques were, and the degree to which store customers acknowledged efforts. Unfortunately, the presentation showed in vivid detail that customers of that store, at least, didn't place much value on some of what the store offered. Here are a few examples:
Boneless chuck roast: This cut of meat is often promoted, but do customers want it? Several were asked when they had last prepared it. They said, "I never have." "Probably 10 years ago." "I guess it would be line one of those eye-of-round roasts, maybe?" "I don't even know what that kind of roast is." And so on it went. Why offer a cut that customers don't want, and which many customers wouldn't know how to prepare? Said John: "Old habits are hard to break."
Grocery ads: The shoppers were asked if they read grocery ads. This elicited a wide range of answers from simply "no," to simply "yes," to a lot of equivocation. "Not really." "Every once in a while." "Sometimes." And so on. Does it really pay to run ads that apparently engage little interest? Said John: "We are our own worst enemies. Ads are cluttered and have nothing to do with what consumers want."
Fair prices: Retailers work hard to make sure their prices are competitive, but is anyone taking notice of that? Shoppers were asked to specify what they thought might be a fair price for a branded 6-ounce can of tuna. Guesses ranged all over the map, from 39 cents to $2.50. Others simply blurted, "I don't know," or "I don't even know what tuna costs." This is simply discouraging.
TPR: Stores are festooned with banners announcing temporary price reduction, but do customers know what all those little TPR tags mean? Several shoppers simply had no idea. One ventured a guess that it might mean "toilet paper reduction." Enough said.
Shopping satisfaction: Shoppers were asked if they like shopping for groceries. One did, but most commented in the range of "not particularly" to "I hate it." Unfortunately, the latter comment was the most frequent. Said John: "Shoppers don't hate being in supermarkets, but they hate the impersonal nature of shopping."
The video of shoppers presented at Speaks was lighthearted, but grim at the same time. "It's obvious we need to listen to consumers better and to understand their behavior. They're entitled to be complex and demanding because it's their money." Mike said. It's all true.