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Want to win in retail? Focus on the basics.

Having moved from a small town with 1200 residents and one grocery store - to a city with a grocery store on every corner of multiple intersections, there have been many chances to experience more in-store and digital ordering experiences in the past few weeks.

We have all experienced the shifts in retail that have been dynamic in the last few years. With the mass adoption of on-line ordering, deliver to home, buy on-line store pickup (BOIP), subscription services offering discounts on these services and other services, customers now have many more chances to be delighted or disappointed. One thing that has been abundantly clear is that the experience from store to digital has become extremely blurred, with some retailers clearly investing in this technology and making it as easy as possible to purchase from their store.

Although technology has enhanced the store experience greatly, there are fundamentals that must be met, otherwise all of that technology is a waste. When it comes to repeat purchases and customer loyalty, a great experience starts with getting the basics of retail execution right.

These might seem obvious, but the stores that I see struggling to do these basics are the ones that I predict will be left behind as other retailers invest in technology AND get these basics correct.

Items in stock/Availability

When working with a major retailer, having items in stock was the #1 thing that customers wanted from their experience. Customers want to get what they came for. As an example – imagine if someone is using their mother’s recipe for a pecan pie because they are having people over for holiday dinner. Everyone looks forward to this pie, as they only make it one time a year. This customer goes around the store getting all the ingredients, filling their cart and finally getting to the baking aisle to see that there are no pecans. The pecans are the star of the show. As a customer, they now have to go to another store, find the item, wait in line, etc. It is frustrating and a waste of time, which is one of our 4 deadly sins of experience (blog coming soon).

We have all experienced this on-line as well with substitutions, cancellations or delays in delivery or pick up, and as a customer having to go get in the car and drive around to get the item anyway.

A well-stocked, well merchandised store that is orderly, clean and has items available will win every time.


The cleanliness of a store is a fundamental that often gets ignored. Not outright filth, but more the hidden filth that might not be so obvious, but still present for the customer. In our experience, when a store was clean, there isn’t a big increase in satisfaction ratings, but it is a huge penalty in your net promoter score or overall satisfaction ratings if a store is not clean. In other words, you don’t get credit for it, but your store will get penalized by customers simply not coming back.

We were recently in a retailer that appeared to have a clean store – nice shiny floors, well maintained shelves – but look down at the bottom shelf of the power alley at checkout, or even worse underneath, you see a neglected field of dust bunnies and years’ worth of dirt. To make it worse, the candy that was at the bottom was covered in filth – which will never sell.

Daily checklists and work designs are not enough for a clean store. A clean store comes from also having a deep clean schedule and making it a non-negotiable.

Another tactic is to walk the store with a customer (or seeing the store as a customer would) and observe what they see. Customers will find areas that have become blind to leadership and staff.

Friendly/Great Customer Service

Nobody likes to shop in a store where the people are miserable, and don’t care about their jobs or the customer. Customer service is a passion for us at Brilliant Workplaces, and in applying for new loyalty cards at retailers, we have encountered some gruff customer service. It is extremely ironic – asking for a card that will keep me coming back again and again, and I’m getting attitude for asking. One of the biggest mistakes we see at retailers is they put their longest tenured people, who are great at execution or processes but terrible at customer service – right at the customer service desk.

One of the biggest promoters when it comes to satisfaction is that they “know me”. Of course this can come from personalization when using technology, but when it comes to in-store purchasing someone who says “hello” or sees a customer use the universal sign of looking up confused, and says “can I help you find something” can go a long way for loyalty and repeat purchases.

Everyone wants to feel that their dollar being spent is appreciated, and good customer service is an underrated essential element of the retail shopping experience.

How to execute the basics well

The first step is awareness, the second is prioritization.

These concepts are not rocket science, in fact, they are extremely basic – which is the point. We see many retailers get caught up in the latest technology, gadgets, software, and simply neglect really great store execution. Leaders who understand their business, the numbers and know where to pivot and put attention when necessary. Retail store execution is where it all matters when it comes to in-store experience.

The tricky part is knowing the systems to use, the right people in place, who are properly trained. For starters:

  • Are these basics part of the daily work design for review and discussion?

  • Are they being measured and reported to people who can do something about it?

  • Have systems been put in place to identify and elevate basics that are neglected?

  • Have people received the right training to understand and deliver on the expectation?

  • Is there anything standing in your team member’s way?

Give your customers a reason to keep coming back and spending their dollars with you – get back to basics!

Brilliant Workplaces helps grocery, retailers, convenient and quick serve store put in place the 3 systems that drive sales when they are down, so they can increase baskets, beat their competitors, and generate new demand. We develop operational solutions through the lens of customer experience and employee experience.

Schedule a 30 minute call to see how we can take your business from good to Brilliant!

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