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September 12, 2005

Sainsbury's mini Internet cafe near the checkout

Dennis Howlett has a neat blog called Bazaarz, which has an avowedly European standpoint, rather than a parochial American or English view. He focuses on ebusiness and accounting, although not necessarily in that order...

Riffing off some 173 thinking, Dennis has the idea of a mini customer service desk at Sainsbury:

Set up a mini Internet cafe near the checkout and maybe next to where you get your latte (if you have time). Set up a blog. Moderate it. Get the brands involved. Get staff involved. Learn from customers. Act according to customer feedback. Measure the results.

I like the idea. Although I can't see my local Sainsbury in Dalston serving lattes...

Why not have a customer service point, though, where the agent could point to news, views and reviews of fellow shoppers? What are fellow customers saying about a particular cheese, cereal or wine.

A customer could request a particular product the store doesnt currently carry. If there is not enough aggregate demand for that item at that store, the customer could be shown how to use Sainbury.com to order it, or directed to a larger store that carried it.

One thing I particularly like about Dennis' idea is that such a blog, used as the basis of a customer service system, could be used to enable an ongoing dialogue between Sainsbury's store locations, head office, and Internet presence. A mix of online and offline views should appeal to marketers.

At the moment the demographics using Sainsbury's online are probably nicely ABC1, but that means the information gleaned about customer behaviours is limited to a single segment of the customer base.

As I understand it Sainsbury's internet sales are pretty disappointing in relation to those of Tesco or Waitrose (Ocado). But it seems very unlikely Sainsbury can change the situation unless it thinks different.

So why not forge ahead and use the net for establishing rich conversations with customers, rather than just seeing it as a sales mechanism, whilst also taking advantage of a core Sainsbury asset--its own people. If thousands of employees and customers began to discuss their good experiences sales would likely follow. Customers are the best evangelists for any company or product.

When we buy from Amazon or through eBay we do so not because they are the cheapest, or the fastest at delivering, but because of the community these web properties have established, helping us to find good books and music, or trust particular eBay merchants.

That is, these sites enable conversations about goods, products and services, with feedback loops based on customer experiences. Customers buy from these sites because they can make more educated decisions. None of the current generation of UK internet grocery retailers however are using this model.

Sainsbury could change the game by building communities, rather than "online commerce engines".

An instore mini customer cafe would be a very useful tool to ensure that everyone could participate with this approach, including who that don't know the difference between a blogroll and a bogroll.

Finally, from a managers perspective, note that Tesco's share price is higher than its peers not just because it has greater sales, but because of a premium based on its "greater understanding of customers". Tesco makes great play about the huge success of its rewards program is helping it understand customer behaviour. Its a virtuous circle.

With a customer service system that spoke directly to customers and aggregated preferences Sainsbury could respond, in a transparent fashion, with no fear of "big brother" perceptions about the use of customer data (because customers would volunteer this info).

Now if only my local Sainbury did a decent espresso...

Posted by James Governor on September 12, 2005 at 01:49 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I think that is a brilliant idea! I am all for a well rounded conversation between stores, the business centre and customers. And a bit of transparency as well.

But isn't that the point of 173 to make Sainsburys more aware of the blogosphere and maybe be more aware of what others think of them

I expect they know you exist but they don't want to admit they take notice of you.

As an aside I have heard that there are new systems coming that will allow you to order products not ranged to your store and available elsewhere, direct to your local store.And be able to tell you the lorry it is on and when it will arrive. If that is true then that is a little of your dream come true..and our Sainsbury's does latte's and expresso's so there is hope.

Posted by: Materfamilias | Sep 13, 2005 9:41:12 PM

Interesting but somehow seems impractical. If you're laden with loads of shopping, why would you want to sit down when you've finally made it almost out of the store, log into a computer and spend time filling out forms about your shopping experience? Or reading about someone's quest to find some biscuit they don't make any more but wish they would?

Even though customers are volunteering the data, why wouldn't they then worry about what it was going to be subsequently used for?

What's to prevent the site being taken over by yobbos with no time on their hands, or groceries on their arms and posting nothing but "oo, babe, u jailb8" and other such nonsense?

Customers want from a store the following:
Good food
Cheap prices
To get in, find what they want, and get out quickly.

The last is why such innovations as price scanners, etc help so much. No more waiting in queues as you sail through, log your stuff, have it debited as you sail out and hit the streets. At what point in someone's day are they going to want to sit down and go "Gosh, my experience was made all the better/worse by them lifting the price of Hobnobs?"

Posted by: Louise | Sep 15, 2005 7:40:29 PM

Super points Louise. Thanks.

the fact you have a few chaps writing a blog about Sainbury here is a pretty good answer to your last point... isn't it?

People like to tell each other what they like and don't about shops and stuff.

and RFID and customer databases have some big brother implications too, don't they?

just a few points before i go buy some dinner and eat it.

hope the queue isn't too long... :-)

Posted by: james governor | Sep 15, 2005 7:46:34 PM

I should also say i envisaged the mine service desk as being manned. its not just a lonely little internet terminal.

no i see the net as a tool not an end in itself.

I also think we need to be careful assuming what all people want from a shopping experience. some people make lists, while others browse.

i dont usually buy on the basis of price. quality is far more important to me.

when my folks go to ikea they always stop at the cafe for a snack. they aren't in a hurry to leave.

what if Sainsbury emulated Borders and-shock horror- encouraged customers to relax and stay on at the shop for a bit and read something, or have a coffee or whatever/ maybe they would buy something else.

of course if they could get rid of the checkout lines using the payment technology you mention, perhaps shopping would feel more like a social activity and less like a boring financial transaction.

thanks again for your feedback Louise, its helped firm up my thinking on the balance between

Posted by: james governor | Sep 16, 2005 9:38:30 AM

You do have a sort of business blog here, but it isn't by people who are actually at the door. It is by a bunch of guys (note: not women, who do the majority of actual purchasing on a total£ basis, as I'm sure your marketing research will show.). And they're not doing it at the store while they're shopping, which is what you're suggesting.

There are entire chains of stores in the States that have cafes, etc to encourage people to stay around longer but if that time suddenly becomes contingent on "will you fill out this form and tell us about your experience" I know that I, for one, would not only run a mile but purposefully shop somewhere else.

There are big brother implications to customer databases, etc, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any to encouraging customers to put in blogs, etc at the store. Your initial entry said customers wouldn't have to worry about this as it was voluntary. Almost all this information is voluntary, but people do worry about it and very rightly so.

Quality is an issue, indeed, but with 20% of Britains living at or below the poverty line price is a huge huge factor for many.

Posted by: Louise | Sep 17, 2005 1:38:47 PM

At my local Sainsburys (Brighton) they have a Starbucks attached. No really. And it seems pretty busy to me and presumably has that standard wifi deal with Tmobile. No usage from me thanks v.much because three kids running about, I'm like Louise, in there and out, as fast as I can. But plenty of people do hang about although as far as I can tell Sainsburys aren't exactly breathing down their neck asking em about Sir Jamie Oliver. And rightly so. They just want to put their feet up before driving home.

No discussion/posts on this blog yet about the new Sainsburys slogan ?

Posted by: Jem Stone | Sep 19, 2005 1:58:36 PM

my local Sainsbury is a second tier store. i dont think the company sees Dalston as a market to innovate/offer premium services to.

good point jeb we better do something about that new slogan...

Posted by: james governor | Sep 19, 2005 2:25:11 PM

Interesting point about Tesco. They talk 'customer' everything but they don't actually use stuff that would suggest the 'conversation' is with the customer. They're really about the supply chain - like most retailers. So even though they do lean topwards demand driven supply chain ideas, it's all about cross-upsell. Especially in non-food and electronics. They too could learn from this kind of idea methinks.

For Sainsbury, the logical thing would be to trial in a handful of busy stores picked for throughput not demographics. That would give them a broad spread of buyer 'types.' Another approach might be to trial in stores that exhibit different product sales profiles to assess what people might be interested in.

Sadly, there's no definitive way of approaching this as it is such a novel idea. But I'd say that a few £000 invested early would reap enormous rewards. And think of the PR value - what other chain could say it is making a genuine effort to do this because even getting it 'wrong' in the early stages is worth the risk.

Sainsbury might argue otherwise but I believe if they could understand the medium, the ways to moderate for profanity and so on then it becomes a relatively easy 'sell.'

There would be some IT implications but in the scale of things I genuinely think they're minor.

Posted by: Dennis Howlett | Sep 19, 2005 5:28:29 PM

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