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A new format in grocery retail is emerging: the 50,000 square foot convenience store. Its value proposition to customers is simple: higher quality perishables and ready-to-eat items than your typical grocery store. Thousands of the same center-store products you can also find at Walmart, Target, Amazon, Costco and Sam's Club. Everything at higher prices. Added bonus: since the store is 10x to 20x bigger than your typical c-store, you can get your steps in and burn calories at the same time.

Wait, what?


The reality is that this is not a new format—rather the customer-led repurposing of a familiar one: the traditional, regional grocery store. This finding comes from a follow-up analysis of data collected for the recent 2019 Grocery Retailer Preference Index report, a report which identified winners and losers among the 56 largest retailers in the U.S. Grocery Retail Industry. In this follow-up analysis, we examined the types of trips people took (e.g. bigger vs. smaller) to each retailer, as well as the categories they bought (e.g. produce, ready-to-eat or paper products). The findings cast further light on the problems faced by traditional grocers in an evolving grocery landscape that has seen national mass, club, drug, dollar, convenience and digital players invest more in the grocery game the past few decades.

When considering trip types and categories sought by customers, five general types of retail destinations emerge:

  • All-around grocery shop
  • Perishable and ready-to-eat small basket
  • Quick and convenient meal
  • Non-perishable stock-up
  • Non-perishable small basket

Certain channels lend themselves to certain destination types. Specialty grocers like Trader Joe's or Sprouts, with fewer SKUs and smaller formats than the traditional grocer, tend to fall in the "Perishable and ready-to-eat small basket" destination type. Club and mass are non-perishable stock-up destination. Drug, dollar and digital in non-perishable small basket. C-stores in quick and convenient meals. However, many traditional grocers have an identity crisis. Only 6 in ten are seen primarily as "all around grocery shop" destinations, despite all of them carrying the full complement of SKUs.

In other words, almost half of traditional grocery stores are shopped more like a convenience and specialty store than like a store with 10-20x more products than that. At best, categories beyond perishable and RTE food are typically an afterthought and only shopped in a pinch. At worst, those categories are bypassed completely by shoppers, who instead buy the same products for cheaper at widely available mass, club, digital, dollar or drug channels.

The result of being treated as a perishable c-store is a lower share of customer wallet. Traditional grocers who are all-around grocery destinations win 33% of their customer's share of wallet, versus only 20% for traditional grocers shopped like a perishable c-store.

So, what can traditional grocers who are not being viewed as an all-around grocery shop do about it?

According to an analysis of customer needs gathered from a survey sent to 7,000 shoppers in the U.S., if traditional grocers want to ensure they'll be an all-around grocery shop, they need to ensure some key ingredients are in place:

  • Highly relevant assortment, which is rarely out of stock
  • Prices that are consistent on inelastic and competitive on key-value items, while offering discounts on the products that are important to customers and responsive to promotions
  • Decent perishable quality

For now, traditional retailers aiming to be all-around grocery shops can trade-off on having the best digital offering and the best ability to get customers in and out quickly. These things are less important to customers when picking an all-around grocery destination.

While some traditional grocers are struggling to win the title of all-around grocery shop, one non-traditional store isn't: Aldi. Aldi's consistently industry-leading prices and their ability to manage out of stocks and store cleanliness just as well as your average traditional grocery store, has made them a stock-up destination for perimeter categories, like produce and dairy, as well as center store packaged food items. As a result, despite having stores which carry less than 2,000 SKUs, Aldi's share of customer wallet is in line with that of the average traditional grocery store, which often carry more than 40,000 SKUs.

Of course, the reality is that no single non-traditional competitor is eating away at traditional grocers' hold on the all-around grocery shop. Rather, a host of non-traditional competition, each with unique value propositions, are all taking small bites, which add up. The data suggests that this is because traditional grocers took their eye off the retail basics, perhaps because they grew complacent after decades of dominance and relatively little industry disruption from non-traditional substitutes.

So, the call to action is clear: before overinvesting on any shiny new toys, like eCommerce or technology to speed up checkout, get back to your roots and make sure you're offering the right prices on the right products.

white and blue magnetic card

Photo by Avery Evans on Unsplash

Most companies attempting to drive customer loyalty fail miserably—and few so-called customer-centric companies generate sustainable customer loyalty that drives measurable business results. Why? Because they get three key principles completely wrong, right from the start:

  1. Loyalty is about the company acting loyally to its customers, not vice versa.
  2. It is about a loyalty approach, not a loyalty program.
  3. Loyalty is about the store, not only about the CRM.

1. Loyal to Customers

We start to act loyally to customers when we understand them to a level of detail that ensures that we remain responsive to changes in their behavior, relevant to ever-changing customer needs and rewarding in the way we treat customers.


Acting loyally is about adopting a loyalty mind set of managing customer segments as strategic business units (aligning with how we think about a category management strategy as managing categories as strategic business units). This context demands change that is both incremental and transformational—evolution, but with a bit of manageable revolution.

What customer loyalty is, and is not:

  • Acting loyally (responsive, relevant, rewarding) to our customers; not about customers being loyal to us
  • An overall approach throughout our business; not a proposition or program
  • Earning customer loyalty; not thinking that customers should become loyal
  • Collaborative partnerships to win customers together; not tolerant of internal conflict between areas of the business or with suppliers
  • Transparent; not opaque
  • Driving sales and cash margin; not customers being responsible for percent margin

2. Loyalty Approach vs. Loyalty Program

We demonstrate loyalty to our customers by taking a loyalty approach wherein we commit to rewarding and delighting our customers with products and experiences that meet their wants and needs.

  • We call this putting customers first—when we decide on priorities and actions based on insights from our customer data.
  • By doing so, a retailer becomes an even more prominent choice in the customer's consideration set. This is not a tactic; it is a long-term strategy that makes the customer the focal point of our business decisions and objectives.

The loyalty program is an important element within a loyalty approach, as the key source of the data that enables customer intelligence, and as the channel that enables us to talk to our customers personally. I call the loyalty program the "little l" in loyalty, with the loyalty approach as the "big L."

But a loyalty program is not required to act in a loyal way to customers. Here's how to think of "big L" loyalty:

A loyalty approach, simply put, embeds customer insight throughout the retail organization to enable better, faster decisions and thereby increase sales and profit sustainably. Best-in-class practitioners have seen an incremental sales uplift in the early stages of a loyalty approach of between 1% and 2% and later stages between 3% and 4%, quarter over quarter and year over year.

3. Loyalty Is About the Store, Not Just the CRM

As I used to say to my retail colleagues, "If the store is lousy but we deliver brilliant targeted CRM, the store will still be lousy."

Even if the personalized CRM is perfect, customers need to perceive that tangible changes have been made in the store itself before they will respond by giving more of their custom. We must put customer insights into action within the "hardwiring" of retail practices—pricing, promotion, assortment, adjacencies, new products, the checkout experience and so on.

In a previous article, I shared several examples of being loyal to customers in store by simply making the shopping experience easier—setting the yogurt section by customer need rather than by brand blocks, for example, and by setting product adjacencies according to how customers shop, rather than by how items are sourced in the supply chain.

3 Ways to Activate a True Loyalty Approach

  1. Make better business decision by putting the customer first. Everything is better when you start with the customer. Start with the data you hold on customers—understanding how they shop and behave, what is important to them and how they engage with your business. This insight will identify a number of opportunities for better decisions using the data.
  2. Improve the customer experience by using data-driven insights to improve your retail offering, such as assortment, pricing and promotions. Use insights to connect you to your customer through the store. Think of the mantra "data to insights to actions"—this is how improved like-for-like sales growth and customer loyalty is delivered.
  3. Transform the organization using customer-driven insight to help you better understand, anticipate, measure and continually respond to your customers. This is realized through empowering, aligning and equipping your people with relevant insights, values, goals, strategies and actions.


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[This is the fourth in a series of articles advocating the voice of the Customer in the highly competitive food-retail industry. David Ciancio is Global Customer Strategist for dunnhumby, a pioneer in Customer data science, serving the world's most Customer-centric brands in a number of industries, including retail. David has 48 years experience in retail, 25 of which were in Store Management. He can be reached at David.Ciancio@dunnhumby.com].

Treating Customers differently based on their 'profitability' is counter-productive to building loyalty and toward creating a healthy retail Customer Experience.


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assorted fruits at the market

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

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FOR RETAILERS

Smarter operations and sustainable growth, powered by Customer Data Science.

FOR BRANDS

Better understand and activate your Shoppers to grow sales.

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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In this series, dunnhumby tours the globe and speaks with some of the world's greatest brands, exploring their biggest challenges and how they are using customer data science to meet those challenges.