Supermarkets: the low-key wow

Good lord — for once I don’t fully agree with Seth Godin. Godin posted a piece yesterday about new media and how it’s hard to succeed these days unless you can provoke a “wow”. That may be true, but Godin used the example of supermarkets to contrast the elsuive and theatrical “wow” factor. “My local supermarket stocks waxy, tasteless tomatoes from Chile and Mexico and Florida,” Godin says, “when local tomatoes are delicious”. Defending the supermarket’s decision not to “wow” with tomato quality, Godin asserts: “This supermarket, like most supermarkets, is a checklist institution, one that is in the business of providing good enough, in quantity, at a price that’s both cheap and profitable.” But what if the supermarket “programmed” its stores, as theatres do, to provide something “magical or terrific” — something that would be “worth the trip”? Wouldn’t that be better, Godin appears to imply?

I think that Godin has missed the point about supermarkets and what consumers want to get out of the experience. Over the last five years I’ve been privy to a fair amount of research from the likes of Nielsen and McKinsey and — trust me on this — what consumers want to get out of supermarkets is this: they just want to get out of the supermarket. Make that quick and painless and you’ve already wowed them.

That aside, there are other ways to provide a low-key wow, without the need for greasepaint and an orchestra pit. I’m in the UK a lot and where I go there are three supermarkets in close proximity and close competition. Each provides its own wow. Shop A wows with its premium product quality; Shop B wows with its choice, its excellent customer service and swift exit. Shop C wows with its very low prices on food and non-food. Here’s the thing: no need for a programme. You get this wow every time you go there. You get the wow because you expected the experience to be a bit negative and the store surprised you by being the opposite. Wow.

Supermarket shopping is not like a visit to the theatre. It’s not an optional dose of magic. It’s a grim necessity.

Remove the grim bit, do that well and do it every time, and you’ll wow your customers for life.

 

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