PHILADELPHIA — Consumers say retailers are not as responsive to their concerns during these hard economic times as they were during the 1991 recession, according to a Consumer Network survey conducted this summer.
In answer to this statement, “I'm impressed with companies who are being responsive in these hard times,” only 58% agreed. That's in sharp contrast to 85% who agreed with that statement in a 1991 survey, said Mona Doyle, president, Consumer Network, a consumer research firm.
Consumers said many companies, not just supermarkets, are offering lower prices, but that restaurants have been going further — bringing down prices and offering interesting and affordable specials.
Respondents' comments, in general and about supermarkets, spurred Doyle to point out at least one missed opportunity.
“Supermarkets could be making more of an effort to help customers cook, and get their kids involved in cooking, showing them how it could be fun, a family thing to do,” Doyle said.
“Many supermarkets have made big strides guiding customers to healthful packaged goods, but I haven't seen many giving their customers incentives to cook with fresh ingredients.”
She suggested retailers initiate a program that would capitalize on the fact that people are indeed doing more cooking at home these days just to save money. It would require the retailer to put together a plan. First, they could get some customers together, she suggested, to ask what they'd like their supermarket to do to help them cook, or to make cooking more enjoyable.
“I think people would be responsive to that,” Doyle said.
“They watch cooking shows, but it doesn't seem to translate into cooking at home. How about having a session, with kids included, showing how to cook some basics, things people already like to eat?”
Survey respondents did single out some supermarket chains that they believed were working to help their customers out during difficult economic times.
They praised a couple of big chains — Kroger and Giant Eagle — for their fuel programs, but many respondents also said that small, independent grocers were generally more apt to be responsive to customers.
When asked to rank companies for the way they have recognized and responded to customers' needs, Publix Super Markets was ranked No. 1, while Wendy's and McDonald's were voted Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. Wegmans was also mentioned several times, Doyle said.
For the most part though, good customer service at supermarkets was hard to come by, respondents said. In fact, Doyle said that several survey comments indicate that supermarkets aren't doing enough to make shopping easier, or even to make it a more pleasant experience.
“Customer service? I'm just glad when an employee bags my groceries at checkout,” one respondent said.
Doyle said she witnessed something recently that unfortunately didn't surprise her.
“I was in a supermarket near me, where the woman ahead of me in line was questioning the price of cherries,” she said. “They rang up at $2.99 a pound even though the sign on the display said $1.99. Rather than call the manager, the young man at checkout simply said, ‘I'm sorry lady, do you want the cherries or not?’ Not surprisingly, she left her groceries behind and walked out.”
While a lot of retailers are putting an effort into getting their associates to greet customers, or at least thank them at the end of a transaction, customer service is woefully lacking at a time when it could make the difference in where the customer chooses to shop, Doyle said.
“But in too many places, ‘the customer is wrong’ philosophy continues.”