I tend to be fairly easy-going about the hoops we jump through because of other people’s lack of integrity. I understand that retailers may tread a fine line between treating their customers like would-be criminals and having shrinkage eat up all their profits, and usually I see their security measures as a little irritating, but probably inevitable.
But I get really irritated when I have to present my invoice for double-checking at an exit from a store, or have any clothes I’d like to try on counted, with great care, by an attendant before I’m allowed to venture into a fitting room. The irrefutable truth is that I’m being treated like a potential shoplifter rather than a valued customer.
Woolies corporate Mission Statement probably doesn’t specify that they will maintain shrinkage below x% by treating all customers as potential criminals, but it’s certainly a key objective! Of course, I’m being very unfair in singling out Woolies; it’s standard procedure at so many shops that mostly we don’t even pay attention.
But two weeks ago I was in the Netherlands and popped into an Albert Hein supermarket. It’s a nice store, part of a national chain, basically a regular supermarket with all the usual facilities.
But this time there was something new: self-scanning. And as the header card promises, it’s fast and easy.
Shoppers simply collect a scanner at the supermarket entrance and scan each item before dropping it into their shopping bag.
When they’ve finished, they head for the self-service payment station, present their scanner and insert their bank card. Quick, simple and rather fun! No need to unpack and repack your trolley, no queues or waiting for someone who ran back for something they forgot.
Now, other than the way this speeds up the shopping, it’s also a nice way to be treated. They assume that their customers are, by and large, honest enough to pay for everything in their shopping bags.
Of course, I’m sure they do spot checks from time to time, but on the whole, they appear to trust their customers. And of course, they still have plenty of regular till points for their technophobic customers.
And just by the way, they also had a new self-service coffee station, where you can help yourself to a free cup of coffee. Hey, I don’t even like coffee, but I was impressed. Just one more little thing they offer their customers to make them feel special.
I have no idea how good the coffee is, or how well any increase in shrinkage will be compensated for by the long-term savings attributable to self-scanning, but I’m sure they’ve done the calculations. But these two innovations are more than a financial decision; they are part of a sound marketing strategy. They offer real value to their target market and set Albert Hein apart from their competitors. The technology is not a sustainable point of difference, but by being first in, they have positioned their brand as more sophisticated and leading the way.
But mostly, they have shown their customers that Albert Hein is prepared to do things to make their lives simpler and more pleasant. And isn’t that a far better relationship than being treated like a shoplifter?
And wouldn’t it be great if our society behaved in a way that allowed us all to be treated with this kind of respect?