When I go to a grocery store—well, most stores really but in my reduced circumstances I rarely “shop”—it sort of looks like this to me—
—well, except that I wouldn’t actually get a lot of that stuff in that cart, but you maybe get the idea. The store’s efforts to the contrary, it’s personally actually NOT a great shopping “experience.”
Despite my non-consumerist outlook on life, I actually do quite a lot of work “in” marketing (read that—transcribing focus groups) and hear about this a lot. There are professionals in customer experience now—who knew? And apparently from this and this it’s quite the intense field on beyond suggestive selling or those engineered ads. And, yes, I read Subliminal Seduction when it came out AND Hidden Persuaders, buddy.
I’m sure my local chain grocery store has spent a lot of money and interest toward enhancing their customer experience. I would have to guess most places have to in order to stay competitive. But no matter what they do, they are unable to have me leave their store without feeling overwhelmed, tired beyond belief and sometimes all but shattered.
I actually no longer register the other maybe 250 kinds of cereal on the shelves; I head straight for the bottom shelf about one-third the way down the aisle where they keep “old fashioned” oatmeal in the red box (the blue one is that quick-cooking mess). Each generic thing on my list has a definite location where I can go straight away and fetch it. When they move stuff around—which they do with alarming frequency—I’m aghast and have to look (which is why they do it) for “my” stuff. I aim to get in and gone as quickly as possible.
The store itself is long walk, not including the trek in from the parking spot. And when you count the number of times you’re hefting each thing—one to get it off the shelf, down into the cart, back out of the cart at the check-out, back in the cart because the cashier stuffed the bags and lined them up at the end of the check-out, into the car, out of the car and again to give them their appropriate homes in pantry or fridge. It makes me exhausted just thinking about all that lifting.
And then there’s the check-out lane. I flatly refuse to use the self-check-outs no matter how few items I have. I will go to express with my 15 items or FEWER (not “less” grammatically) or to a regular check out complete with the cashier. I’ll stand there and wait it out because they may only one actual person assigned there to ring me up; I prefer for people to have jobs instead of machines. I also somehow am old enough that I happen to like the human element, though I must confess to some impatience when that human hands me my change in a little wad with the receipt instead of properly counting it back, but I know that that gentility of counting the money back “in reverse” is a lost art.
No, I like the little Mennonite family-run store I found in a nearby more rural town a few months ago. They sell stuff that looks like this:
The store is quite plain with no fancy banners with the next “exciting offer” nor nauseating music or blah-blah-blah on the public address. It’s actually quiet except for sometimes they might have their radio on. Aside from the (forgivable) “placement” of candies near the entrance, things are pretty much grouped into things like flours, spices, jars of things and a cold case with milk and eggs and a few other things in. (There’s a meat section, too, that doesn’t smell weird and is easily ignored by this vegetarian.) Carts and baskets are available but they also don’t mind if you lay stuff on the counter and go shop some more because you came in for two things and are leaving with more. They smile and ring you up. They count back your change (I try always to take cash so they don’t take the hit from a credit card).
It’s a tiny store with certainly no 250 types of cereal. There is “white flour,” “wheat flour,” and even “spelt flour.” I can get my dried soybeans and spelt berries there, too, which that chain doesn’t carry. There is one milk to choose from, unless you count chocolate milk (not “chocolate flavored drink”) and the only variety in eggs is whether you want large or extra-large. It’s not a gauntlet or science project.
More to the point, I leave feeling content. I believe I’ve traded fairly. I’m smiling when I put the stuff into my car. It’s the difference described by Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones in which she tells about how she and her friends in college opened a lunch shop. She says that when she cared about the muffins she made, the customers liked them. We’ve all (I hope—though it’s increasingly rare) had the “experience” of shopping whatever store and just feeling better about it. It’s the mark of that indefinable element that no “customer experience transformer” is going to suggest to her company—that the employees MATTER (afterall—they are ‘human resources’) and what matters most about them is their caring they can bring to what they’re doing. You can put in all the trappings you want but an employee who cares is the best investmen in customer experience.