Supermarkets have enormous buying power and are able to maintain their margins by driving down the prices that they pay to their suppliers. As a consumer I like that. However if I was a fruit and vegetable grower, or a similar business reliant on climatic variables, I probably wouldn’t be so happy. I’d particularly resent having to finance the supermarket’s debt, as many suppliers end up having to.
Supermarkets, in New Zealand particularly, are somewhat backward when it comes to how they treat their customers. Why do I think that? Let’s do some arithmetic. Let’s say that a household spends $250 a week on groceries at a supermarket. That works out to $13,000 a year or $390,000 over 30 years, in 2013 dollar terms which, if I’ve worked my calculator properly, is a figure closer to $900,000 in 30-years’ time.
But supermarkets treat customers like $250 buyers, not $900,000 buyers. At checkouts, people spending a few measly dollars are treated better than those with trolleys piled high with goods and screaming children. People buying 10 items or fewer should be encouraged to go to dairies or service stations, rather than cluttering up supermarkets. Making them line up amongst people with huge trolley loads worth many times more may persuade them to go elsewhere. Seriously.
Customer loyalty isn’t rewarded by the supermarkets themselves. They outsource that to token discounts offered on vehicle fuel from selected oil companies, or through Flybuys or similar schemes.
Supermarkets appear to be computerised, with checkout operators scanning barcodes attached to most goods. Yet they are incapable of effectively managing their stock levels. If they know what’s going out the front door, they should be able to match that to goods coming in the back door – in real time, and also give detailed instructions to shelf stackers. But on most trips I make to the supermarket, I encounter product reps with clipboards examining stocks of their products on shelves. They shouldn’t have to do that in a properly computerised business. I also regularly find that goods I have on my list have been sold out. That should never happen.
My local supermarket should know exactly what I buy – scotch fillet steak, South Australian shiraz (always less than $16 a bottle) and craft beer, for example. It counts everything I buy, totals the dollar amount for each item, and matches that to my EFTPOS bank account details.
If the supermarket asked for my permission, I would be happy to be supplied with offers that matched my regular buying preferences. If the supermarket was really clever and knew what time I was coming, it could pre-load a trolley with my “usuals”, leaving me to add the occasionals and impulse purchases. Too much like hard work for $250? Probably. But I’m actually a $900,000 customer. Why not treat me like one?