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Quality pillar is the most complex preference driver in our study because it includes many different attributes. The two underlying customer needs are the Quality of the store experience and the product assortment.

The Quality pillar composition is very similar to previous years, but the importance of Quality dropped from the second most important pillar in previous years to the second least important in 2020. In previous years, we would see strong positive correlation between the Quality score of a banner and their financial performance, but there was noticeably less correlation in 2020. Customer needs shifted from finding a preferred, branded paper towels to simply finding any paper towels. Thus, many shoppers went from satisfying their higher-order emotional needs to simply finding product on the shelf that would meet their more basic functional needs. In addition to the pillar attributes being consistent to previous years, the list of top banners also looks familiar, although these banners did not get the usual Quality tailwind of previous years.

In the pre-Covid Era, we would expect those making large Quality gains to also see increases in YOY sales. Viewing the Notable Gainers, big increases in Quality perceptions did not necessarily translate into YOY sales growth. The one outstanding banner in Quality improvements is Giant PA, which also improved significantly in Digital and Operations. These latter two improvements are likely strong drivers of their YoY sales gains. It is also interesting to note that all these banners are traditional grocers, except WinCo. And although Quality was less important in driving short-term financial results this year, the top-Quality gainers are another data point that shows the relative gains made by traditional banners during Covid.

As customers and the supply chain return to a more pre-Covid status, we expect Quality to stay a key driver in longer-term store preference and performance. During Covid, shoppers concentrated their share of wallet more into a single store to cut down on exposure to infection risk, but as shoppers become more comfortable shopping multiple banners and begin to once again purchase ready-to-eat grocery items, we would expect Quality importance to bounce back.

Quality and Covid: Voice of the customer

"I don't feel comfortable standing and looking through produce while someone else is standing near me doing the same thing. I feel uneasy walking up to employees and asking them for help, like I always have.


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Retail leaders must objectively understand how their business currently considers Customers before trying to set a more Customer-centric direction and focus. There are some formal assessment methodologies, like dunnhumby's Retail Preference Index (RPI) and Customer Centricity Assessment (CCA), which offer detailed evaluations of a business' capabilities, strengths and weaknesses based on Customer perceptions (RPI) or global best practices (CCA).

The approach outlined below is not intended to replace these formal tools; rather, these observations are intended as a kind of 'toe in the water' to help retail leaders form early hypotheses and points of views. These are rules of thumb, heuristics culled from global experience. Later, leaders might use these observations to informally check progress from time to time as a way of assessing whether the "program in the stores matches the program in our heads".

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