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A New Friendly Neighborhood Grocery Store?

It’s so easy to write about customer experiences gone wrong. I’ve done that several times now, and I feel bad that I never have good things to write about! (OK, I have written about one, so far. Just one!) But that’s just the nature of the beast.

It’s tougher to write about the good experiences, mainly because there are so few! Ask Stan Phelps about how long it took to come up with 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe! Why are these memorable experiences so few and far between? Why do companies focus on numbers and profits rather than on the customer experience? Why don’t they understand that the experience is what drives growth and profits? (And that employees drive the experience?)

Well, finally, I can write about another good experience! And it’s not just one lone interaction that motivated me to write this post; I’ve held off writing about this company because I’ve been waiting to see if my interactions with them would continue in the same manner, i.e., was this a fluke? or is there a pattern/consistency?

The object of today’s blog post is Albertsons, a grocery store chain on the West Coast. Yea, that big, hairy grocery store that has had its share of negative stories. Trust me. I have had my share of bad experiences with them in the past.
I also used to shop on Albertsons.com and have my groceries delivered – until they revamped their website to make it more “user friendly,” which not only caused my history and favorites to be lost but also rendered the site quite unfriendly. I have not used this channel since then.
But I’ve seen a pattern of improvement lately in their physical stores, and it’s not just in one store but two that I shop at regularly. (I know; two is not a pattern!)
There are two Albertsons that I shop at: one is just around the corner from where I live, and the other is close to the gym and the boys’ Taekwondo school. It’s convenient. I stop in at the second one almost as much, if not more, than the one around the corner from my house. I’ve witnessed some amazing things in the last couple of months that have really impressed me. Listed below are just a few examples.
After my morning workout, I often stop at Albertsons to grab some coffee at the Starbucks located inside the store or to pick up whatever items I’ve run out of.
One morning, after my workout, I was in the produce department of the Albertsons closest to the gym; one of the produce guys greeted me immediately and asked me to let him know if I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Then the produce manager spotted me and let me know that if there’s anything I’d like to sample, he’d cut some fruit for me! What?! And without waiting for me to respond, he walked up, asked me if I’m hungry (I’m famished, of course, after my workout!), and suggested a few fruits (including a honey tangerine – yum! – and a unique pear that I’ve never heard of before) for me to try. He cut them for me, got me some napkins, and I was on my merry way. Simple gesture, but it left quite the impression on me. I’m still talking about it now!
Prior to this, all of the employees in the produce department had always been friendly, greeted me, and offered assistance, if needed. I’ve ordered cakes for my kids’ birthday parties from their bakery, as well, and the bakery team has been great, making recommendations for flavors, decorations, etc.
Two nights ago, I stopped in after the boys’ Taekwondo class to pick up some berries. I walked into the produce department and was greeted immediately. As I went to grab a container of raspberries, the produce manager stopped me and said that if I’d wait a minute, he’d go in the back and get a fresh box of berries that had just arrived. I didn’t really see anything wrong with the four remaining containers of raspberries, but I was certainly pleased by the offer of getting the freshest ones available!
The last story that I’ll tell about this particular Albertsons is about another morning that I stopped in to do some post-workout shopping. (Yea, there’s a theme here… workout, eat, workout, eat.) This time, I needed to pick up more than just produce and ended up with several bags of heavier, awkward items. While checking out, I mentioned that I was going to grab some coffee at Starbucks, and the guy bagging my groceries asked if I wanted a cart. I declined and said I’d be able to carry it all. Despite that, while I was ordering my drink at Starbucks, he brought me a cart. Thank goodness because I really couldn’t have carried it all without dropping something.
Even when I enter this store just to grab some coffee, I’m greeted by the folks at the registers. They know who I am, acknowledge me, and say “hello” or “good-bye” every time. Simple little touches that leave lasting impressions.
What’s my point? It’s the people! The people make all the difference. The people drive the experience. People buy from people. Remember, this is a large, chain grocery store. You can just be a number, or you can help make a difference. These employees have chosen to drive change in this organization, be friendly to their neighbors, and make the shopping experience pleasant. I’m not aware of any cultural changes within Albertsons, so if anyone has insights, let me know. I’d be curious to see if this is just a “local thing,” or if others are seeing a similar change in other locations.
On to the other store, the one closest to my house. This one also has a Starbucks, plus it has a pharmacy inside. I do my big, weekly grocery trip at this location and have for the last 10 years. Many of the same employees are still there (even after the very long grocery workers’ strike several years ago). It’s generally a good experience. I can’t say anything negative about shopping there. The cashiers and baggers are all friendly and make conversation, and if I stumble upon an employee down an aisle, he or she will generally ask if I need help finding anything. When I check out, they always ask if I found everything I was looking for. I can’t say that I’ve had the same consistently great experience in the produce department as I’ve had in the other store, but it’s not been a negative experience either.

And that begs the question, is a non-negative experience the same as a positive experience? It’s not a remarkable experience, but it doesn’t detract from how I feel about the brand. Is that a good thing? I guess that’s a topic for another blog post.

But I digress. Back to the topic at hand.

What I do like about this store is a nice personal touch. Every couple of months, I receive a hand-written letter from the store director. The image to the left shows a letter, with which he included his business card, that I received from him just yesterday. I’ll forgive him for spelling my last name wrong (hey, even my mom gets it wrong every once in a while). I appreciate the gesture and the offer to contact him if I need anything. This has been an ongoing thing with this particular store (even through a change in store managers) since I started shopping there; the letters seem to come more frequently now, though. In addition, one of the other store managers greets me whenever I see him. I’ve seen him in the store on “off duty” days, and he’s no different. He says “hello” and asks about my day. This is a great example to set for your employees!

OK, so Albertsons is not Trader Joe’s, but they really are making an effort. I never get a hand-written letter from TJs! So you might ask: “If you’re writing about great grocery store experiences, why didn’t you write about Trader Joe’s?” Glad you asked! I LOVE Trader Joe’s. But I also expect to have a great experience at Trader Joe’s, so it’s not really newsworthy, is it? Or is it? A great experience is an expectation. A bad experience is a story.
To wrap this up, why did I write about Albertsons? I’ve taken notice. There’s been an improvement, a culture change. It’s been consistent. It’s been memorable. It’s all about their people, their employees making a difference.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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