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Thank you for shopping here.

Telling customers you appreciate their business is nice. Showing them is nicer and more effective. To get a handle on how stores are doing in the thank you department, and how customers feel about being appreciated, we asked a cross section of our shoppers the following question: Is there an airline or a supermarket that really appreciates your business? If yes, how do you know it?

Our panelists liked this question, but split close to 50/50 on answering yes or no. Most just said "No," but the naysayers who did make comments seemed sad. Since many, if not most, people like to be appreciated, seeming sad isn't surprising.

* "If there is a store that appreciates my business, I'm not aware of it."

* "Very few, and it's difficult to separate honest appreciation from fancy' scams."

* "Good question - but don't know of any that show they appreciate."

* "No, or they wouldn't make shopping such a challenge."

* "Not that I know of."

* "Not really."

* "I don't usually see that."

Among the positives, readers will be glad to know that supermarket examples were cited 10 times more often than airlines. Of course, we have a panel of shoppers, not fliers, but one airline citation is worth our attention:

* "Southwest - no hidden charges."

That comment is worth noting because shoppers see hidden charges (and sometimes any small print) as demonstrations of the absence of customer appreciation.

Here are some of the ways Consumer Network shoppers see supermarkets showing appreciation for their business:

* "Publix lives up to motto where shopping is a pleasure, and quickly stocks requested items."

* "Safeway gives us a 'bag' credit for using their reusable bags."

* "Giant Eagle sends regular $5.00 off coupons in the mail."

* "Kroger gives discounts on gas for purchases."

* "QFC sent a gift card after I filled out a flier giving one of their employees a compliment for her outstanding service."

* "Vons is helpful. "

* "Walmart has friendly, good customer service."

* "HEB is always looking for ways to cut prices."

* "My store sends me an extra 25-40% off coupon on total purchase!"

* "Dillons sends me great coupons in the mail."

* "The owner of our Red Bud, Illinois IGA supports local fund drives. His employees help out and let you sample fresh produce before buying."

* "Fresh Market people are friendly, courteous, and willing to help you. The deli gives you a sample of product before you buy."

* "Fairplay supermarket has great prices and very good customer service."

* "Giant market makes it easy to redeem coupons and get discounts on gas."

* "Thriftway and Fred Meyer are good about showing appreciation."

One of our shoppers compared the specialty food stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's with large supermarkets:

* "Trader Joe's and Whole Foods appreciate my business, while the big supermarkets could care less. When I bring something back, they apologize. And listen to this: I just took a bag of Fresh Express salad back to Whole Foods and said that I wanted them to tell the supplier that I had gotten brown hunks of yucky greens in fresh bags twice in the last month. The customer service clerk called out the manager of the produce department who did two suprising things: First, he said Fresh Express might not be at fault - that the Whole Foods people could have let the bags sit out on a pallet too long in hot weather. That's the first time a supermarket person ever admitted that they might be at fault. I'm so impressed. Second, he insisted on paying for a two-pound bag of cherries that was in my little basket when I protested that they cost twice as much as the salad, he said, 'Your satisfaction is very important to us. We want you to keep shopping here.'"

I've heard lots of stories about customers being overcompensated, but the story about a supermarket department manager telling a customer that the store operations may have been negligent is very rare and timely.

This follow-up question elicited slightly different answers and perspectives, but the same 50/50 split: Are there supermarkets or other retailers that recognize that the store you shop regularly is your store as well as their store?

Among the nays:

* "Fewer and fewer do. It may be because they are manned by teens, who are not the most customer service savvy and may move on to another job by the time I return."

* "No - never!"

* "It happens more often in smaller, locally owned stores and restaurants, but individual employees in big stores make a huge difference when they are especially caring, courteous, helpful, friendly, or knowledgeable."

Among the positives:

* "Wegmans and Costco come to mind. They mail out coupons monthly. They also offer an American Express card that doubles as a Costco card. You earn rebates from shopping there, eating out, staying in hotels, buying gas, etc. They also have a place where you can document 'how are we doing?'"

* "Walmart has great pricing, and customer service has improved lately."

Our next question was: How about Customer Appreciation Sales?

Our panelists split on Customer Appreciation Sales as well. Many see them as come-ons and gimmicks.

* "If coupons are mailed to those with accounts at that store - otherwise, it's just a sale."

* "Yes to customer appreciation sales, but only if they are real sales without lots of gimmicks."

* "CA sales usually have some string or another attached."

* "I like employees to be friendly and helpful. Customer Appreciation Sales make sense to me. Companies treating their employees well go a long way towards the success of the business. Good work should be rewarded."

* "Stop raising prices before offering sales. Just lower prices if you can."

* "Absolutely not. If they really valued me as a customer, they wouldn't have high mark ups in the first place."

* "Usually, these sales aren't any different from regular sales."

Recognizing customers who spend at determined levels has more credibility.

* "Yes, they do! By tracking what we spend, they should reward their best customers with huge sales or extra coupons to help us save money."

* "Penney's sends me many times a coupon for $10 off anything. I love it!!"

* "More coupons for ONE (not two) of an item."

* "Have a point reward system and give us options on how to spend the points."

* "I would like to see companies show appreciation with excellent service, quality employees, and the ability to admit mistakes."

* "I would prefer extraordinary coupon offers for the 'best customers 'free meals, etc."

We also asked: Can the Internet help? Some companies are using Facebook. YouTube, and Twitter to form communities and keep customers informed. Is providing good information on the web a thank you of sorts? The answers suggest that many shoppers are already being overwhelmed by electronic offers.

* "The Internet can help, but I prefer a regular Web site to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. I also appreciate the companies who do not share your personal information. I do not appreciate unsolicited emails."

* "No. It has to be personal."

* "No, I can't sit still long enough."

* "Not really. There are too many groups out there, and I'm really vaguely distrustful of Facebook, etc. Maybe that's why they are laying off people."

* "No, too many groups and Web sites to keep up with."

* "Information always is good, the more the better, without emailing several times a week. Then it becomes an annoyance, like junk mail."

* "I don't want to be bothered by any more email groups."

* "I don't want the whole ad, but email announcement of sale prices on items I buy are very helpful."

What may be most interesting about this collection of comments is that none of the respondents mentioned loyalty cards. The cards have come to mean different things for different stores, but none of our panelists spontaneously associated them with being appreciated. Since many stores continue to ask customers to show or scan their cards at the beginning of checkout, and many self-checkout terminals respond to the card with a "Thank you, Store X shopper," the lack of association of the cards with "thank you" is a failure or a lost opportunity.


Happy September, Mona Doyle
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Publication:The Shopper Report
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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