Posts tagged “safeway”

Rapport building

Friend-of-a-friend Elizabeth Rubenstein took this awesome picture at our local Safeway.

I’m always amazed to see the backstage on display where those of us who are frontstage can see it (see another Safeway example here). In this example we’ve got two separate Rapport Topics Of The Day:

  • How do you like todays (sic) weather?
  • How do you think the Giants baseball team is doing?

Safeway has a long history of awkwardly conceived inauthentic rapport-building techniques, such as the one I wrote about back in 2002 where staffers would hold onto my receipt for a painfully long time while they tried to puzzle out the pronunciation of my name, before handing it back after muttering “Thank you, Mr. Portugal.”

For what it’s worth, they seem to have got better with the name thing, and I haven’t been asked any false-note questions about the weather or the Local Sports Team.

Other Safeway goodies from the past:

(Thanks to Jen Lum)

The Dog Days Are Over


Warning, Portland, OR, December 2010

Last week I stopped at a Safeway store in Portland, OR. On my way to the bathroom, I passed through a backstage area with the various HR notices, schedules, and so on. And then, I see this sign, depicting a crazy-eyed dog, and the exhortation: Warning – A customer who wants a sample looks like this. Don’t Forget The Selling Suggestion.

I’m astounded that Safeway would put this sign where customers can see it. I would hope that companies wouldn’t be using anti-customer imagery as motivational posters, but if they are, I would expect that they wouldn’t put it where customers can see it.

Really, Safeway? You think so little of us that you don’t even care if we know how little you think of us?

Cookie Monsters

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I was taken aback when reading this NYT piece on Starbucks loyalty card

Jeffrey D. Lipp, president and chief executive of Chockstone. His company helps customers, including some Starbucks competitors, build and run their own loyalty programs.

What he has found is that it doesn’t take a lot to get diners, for example, to do what restaurants want. One Chockstone gambit involves using the customer’s receipt to make an offer. Return within 10 days, perhaps, and you can get a free dessert, the slip says.

“It’s amazing this stuff works so well,” Mr. Lipp said. “What we’ve found is that people can be bought for a cookie.”

Pardon? You’re an expert in loyalty, but you refer to people being bought? It’s such a Winston Smith moment when the word loyalty – in the context of companies inducing you to return – has no connection with the actual meaning of the word “A feeling or attitude of devoted attachment and affection.” I guess brand and loyalty are completely divorced in the modern corporation.

Note: the picture above comes from our local Safeway store where I have developed an almost Pavlovian association with their free cookie box, which has sat behind the bakery counter to be reached into by slightly sneaky customers. Avoiding sweets most of the time has really pumped up the anticipation I feel when I head to Safeway to pick up groceries or visit the ATM.

So I was stunned to see the sign and realize the free ride was over. If they’ve got me making such a powerful emotional/gustatory association with visiting their store, isn’t that worth a few boxes of cookies per day?

And so, am I being bought for a cookie? I don’t know, really. But the timing of the outrageous quote in the article and the outrageous sign at Safeway suggest some dystopian cookie Happening may be upon us. I’ll keep you all posted.

Germs are in the details

I’ve blogged here and here about good and bad implementations of wipes in grocery stores.

I found another one in Coupeville, WA, the other day.
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Despite the rather industrial graphics, there’s a few improvements. It’s very clearly for cleaning the cart, not your hands (as Safeway suggested).. It’s right next to the carts, so when you take a cart, you use it (rather than located near the exit, at Safeway). And should the Red Apple employees fail to maintain the display, there’s at least an encouraging reminder to the customer that they should ask to have it replenished.

This is no iPhone, it’s not a radical innovation, but it’s a definite response to a need, and tracking how it is and isn’t being dealt with is enlightening. First, one has to understand the need. Then one has to develop a solution. Then the solution must be implemented. Properly. Effectively. And throw in iteration, for fun. The fact that something as simple as this fails around solution/implementation at a major chain like Safeway tells you something about the organizational barriers to even the most mild of innovations.

Safeway Update

A quick update on the lame hand-wipe station at Safeway (blogged earlier here) – an unattractive display that cleans hands (not cart handles), and doesn’t really address the perceived problem.

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It’s been shoved further against the wall, the container for the wipes is sitting open, and is empty.

Add neglect to the problem, I guess.

Wipe out

Many years ago we worked with a client who wanted to help people with “out-of-home personal cleansing.” It was surprising in our interviews to learn that some people worried about the germs left behind on a shopping cart handle. Then last year at a high-end grocery store in Tucson I saw this:
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A dispenser for cart wipes. Finally a product that addresses the anxiety, if not removing it.

[Recently some students in our Design Research class at CCA came up with some stats around this same issue that I can’t remember, but they were disturbing/gross – the handle was the dirtiest item we’d touch in a typical week??]

Last week I was in my local Safeway and saw this pathetic effort:
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Safeway has shifted the problem definition, allowing you to clean your hands instead of the cart? If the cart is dirty, what do you get out of cleaning your hands before you shop? Maybe a hand wipe on the way out, after you return your cart? But still, if the cart is (seen as) dirty, then clean the cart.

They’ve put it right in the entranceway in a location that is filled with other things that people need to access (drinking fountains, DVD vending machine, bubble gum, hallway to restroom). And really, the whole thing is poorly executed: it’s all about the poster; with little focus on the thing you need to grab – the wrong-sized wipe dispenser and then it’s finished off with the inappropriate, ugly, exposed garbage bin.

Maybe it was a prototype to see how people used it, but I think they’ve created something so pathetic and so much about failure (theirs, and your own) that the results wouldn’t be worth too much to me.

The little touches that mean so much

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We did an unplanned meal shopping thing at Safeway the other day – went in for that night’s meal, thinking “let’s get some fish, and maybe some vegetables.” We check out the fish and choose Dover Sole, relatively bland. We think about some spices and I go off to the spice aisle for something from Zatarains or whoever has that silhouetted dancing chef (anyone?), but then we see this pretty cool display right in front of our noses (there’s so much crap on display in these stores that I guess we tend to look past it when possible) – a variety of spices and marinades.

The fish-prepping man was incredibly nice, very genial, and asked lots of questions as he prepared our food (“how spicy do you like it?”, etc.). We could get the spices on the fish, or on the side. He pointed out another flavor they had but didn’t have room for in the display. We went from ingredients to meal with an enjoyable and custom bit of service (yeah, you can buy flavored/spiced fish and chicken, already done, but this was done at that moment, just for us).

Of course, there were no ingredients on these containers and if you’ve ever read the packages on marinades and flavoring spices you’ve probably noticed the ridiculous amount of salt they contain. We usually comparison shop at length until we find something that is not going to drown us in NaCl. Well, as you can imagine, the fish was spicy and really really really really salty. Each bit was like someone held your tongue with a pair of tongs and held a container of free-running salt above your head for a full minute.

Interestingly, I don’t blame Safeway for that. I take responsibility – caveat emptor – for purchasing a likely-to-be-salty product without finding out more. I compliment Safeway for providing a value-added experience (with the quality of the service – the human – really making it work). I guess we won’t do that next time, and will take the prep burden back on ourselves.

also: I thought the design of the marinade dispensers was kinda cool, allowing you to measure and presumably prevent overpouring.

Check out checking out

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I was thinking about how to describe this mess of a Safeway receipt when I read a post on Niblettes that mentioned “brand diarrhea.”

[as I’ve said, I won’t call the person Niblettes, I’ll call him John, but I will call the blog Niblettes. This is my brand aphasia. Or silliness threshold]

They’ve jammed every form of bonus/status/ad/info at the end. For this purchase, the checkout dude even stopped afterwards and recited a lengthy speech referring me to the information located on the bottom of the receipt that I should check out if I had time. His tone suggested there was maybe something special there that I hadn’t noticed, something specific they would want me to find. But what?

He then called me Mr. Portugal and also gave me $100 cash-back, even though I had only paid for $80. I returned the other $20.

I was pretty intrigued by the discounted gas purchase available. But there’s no info on where to get that! Or any info about how to find out where to get that! Nothing on the back, either. Which makes it basically a useless offer if we can’t redeem it!

I await that heavenly day when I earn my free deli sandwich!

Is Safeway Sucking Your Soul? / Are overlit, heavily toxic supermarkets making you ill and eating your brain? Why, yes

Here’s a brilliant rant about the supermarket shopping experience

Is Safeway Sucking Your Soul?

We are surrounded. We are immersed. American consumer culture is teeming with so many neon-colored, overprocessed, semicomestible, demon-spawn products we can no longer even recognize how bad it is, how it is all meant to drive us slowly insane, so slowly we forget to keep asking why we feel so sick all the time, and we just shut the hell up and buy more giant tubs of Country Crock to go with our liquefied reconstituted pork tubes because we think this is the only way.

FreshMeat #13: The Name of the Game is the Name

========================================================
FreshMeat #13 from Steve Portigal

               (__)                     
               (oo) Fresh                  
                \\/  Meat

Gimme gimme gimme! Gimme FreshMeat, Gimme FreshMeat!
=========================================================

Over the last couple of years, the Safeway grocery chain
has attempted to improve their quality of service by
addressing customers by name. You see, if you use their
loyalty card, or if you pay by debit or credit card,
they retrieve the text of your name and print it on
your cash register receipt. Checkers are required to
thank you by name, which they read off the receipt,
before they hand it to you. This doesn’t work so well,
because it takes more than a few seconds for some
checkers to read some names, and that delay at the
conclusion of your service is intolerable. Add to that,
an increased likelihood of having one’s name mispronounced,
and you’ve got a customer service failure. I mean, if I
had a dime for every time they’ve called me “Mr. Portugal,”
well, I wouldn’t have to shop at Safeway!

(This customer service problem was parodied by Saturday
Night Live back in 1992. You can read a transcript of that
sketch here.)

Recognizing the long-frustrating problem of
mispronunciation of names during commencement ceremonies,
schools like Baylor and Worcester Polytechnic Institute use
the web to collect phonetic spelling info from their grads.

The need is clear, and the technology is ready. Products
like Espeech and Orator II can begin to solve this problem.
The technology that translates text to speech actually
builds a sequence of phonemes (the basic speech sounds
used in a language) that could be spoken (by a speech
synthesizer) or output as phonetics. Just add another
field to all those databases of customer names. Let the
software take the first stab at guessing how to pronounce
the name. Checkout clerks and telemarketers would be
shown a pronunciation key at the appropriate time. If
the customer offers a correction, update the field.

If the companies that consumers do business with (airlines,
grocery stores, phone companies, banks, etc.) are going to
be addressing them by name, is it really so crazy to spend
some money getting those names right? Safeway obviously has
an inkling that they could deliver better service and forge
the right relationship through judicious use of their
customers’ names, maybe they need to step up their efforts
just a notch or two, and get it right.

If you are interested in ideas for products and services,
check out http://www.idea-a-day.com/ (updated daily, as
the name implies, or available as a daily email), or
http://www.halfbakery.com/ (looks cool, but kind of
impenetrable UI.)

Update:
Received February, 2002 from Steven A. Burd, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Office of Safeway, in response to a faxed copy of this issue of FreshMeat.

Dear Mr. Portigal:
Thank you for suggesting that we use some of the new software that translates text into speech, in conjunction with our ongoing customer service initiatives. We appreciate your interest as a good customer whose name has been mispronounced occasionally by our clerks.
It’s an interesting idea, one we have considered before – but using voice recognition technology, the opposite of what you propose. To be honest, we haven’t pursued this since our initial research, because the applications available at the time were expensive, slow and ineffectual. While we have similar concerns about the technology you mentioned, our industrial engineers may wish to visit the two web sites cited in your newsletter.
Meanwhile, we’ll review our stores in your area to be sure any employees who are having difficulty thanking customers by name receive remedial training. If our clerks are unsure of how a name is pronounced, they are to ask the customers. Admittedly, this is a low-tech solution, but it seems to work well.
Thanks again, Mr. Portigal. We value your constructive criticism, and the friendly spirit in which it is offered.

Update:
As we automate our lives, swallowed in a bottomless maw of voice-mail, it’s hard not to heed that little voice telling us to listen

Susan Sward
Sunday, October 18, 1998

Mother used to say that by the time people die, the world around them has often changed so much that death does not seem so terrible. I thought about her comment off and on when I was growing up — partly because I wished that the world where I had played in the 1950s would remain unchanged forever.

Soon enough, I realized that wouldn’t happen. There were the darkened, tree-lined streets of Santa Monica, for example, where my sisters and I ran barefoot chasing after the neighborhood boys. The magic of that mysterious realm was lost forever when the city installed street lights and switched them on one evening. Lately, though, my mother’s observation has been haunting me — because I fear the inexorable march of the machine.

News item: Bank says it will introduce cash-dispensing machines with new software to recognize customers’ faces.

News item: Three industry giants are pioneers in using speech-recognition technology for services such as quoting stock prices over the phone, switching a caller to the right department and reporting the whereabouts of a lost package.

News item: Later this year, many callers wanting flight information from an airline will not speak to a person but to a computer that acts like one.

News item: The Mill Valley Public Library installs an electronic checkout system removing the need to deal with a library assistant when borrowing many of the facility’s books.

Series

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