Great Idea – Placing Cardboards In Broken Spaces

 Broken coolers are unavoidable at grocery stores. However, having unmarked broken spaces could lead to customer perception issues regarding quality and operations. This article focuses on what happens when customers see broken coolers on a prolonged basis and how simple cardboard could be enough to alleviate concerns.

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Have you been to a grocery store that has broken coolers? How does that make you feel? Customers’ trust, loyalty, and perceived product quality could erode if a grocery store does not provide communication on a timely basis.



Hi. Welcome to Retail Mashup. I’m DeAnn. I’m Larry. This is a podcast where we talk about the intersections between customer experience and the realities behind running a profitable retail business. I wanted to talk to you today about an experience that I’ve seen in several grocery stores recently.

Broken Spaces

That’s mystifying because it’s so easy to resolve. That is having broken spaces on your shelves or in your coolers because of some kind of issue. I’m not talking about sold-out items you’re waiting a day or two till restock day. I’m talking about entire cooler sections cleared out and things looking broken.

Something’s not right on that shelf or huge holes at various parts of the aisle create this sense of foreboding for a shopper. There’s something wrong here. They don’t know what’s wrong. Is this broken? Is this store not doing well? It makes people feel subconsciously like they’re around failure.

Broken spaces in this cooler. What does it say about the grocers? Perhaps a cardboard can fix the problem if it’s a technical issue? (Source: DeAnn Campbell)

It’s part of our lizard brain’s response to try to withdraw from a failing situation or experience. This is something that I’m really stumped about why retailers, especially food retailers, don’t have a playbook. The head office team can help their store managers and their store teams know what to do, give them a bag of tools that they can easily grab, and address these issues head-on.

The bottom level of a cooler I saw recently was emptied. I could see the dirt and the rust underneath and it wasn’t working and things were dripping. Yet the two shells above this disgusting space still were stocked with eggs and milk as if business as usual.

A Simple Cardboard

Well, I don’t wanna buy that stuff. That’s gross. That’s nasty. What’s going on here? A simple cardboard insert to cover up the lower level of this cooler with a sign on it saying, maintenance in, in progress.

“We’re keeping this store clean and safe for your benefit.”

A simple cardboard stating the reason why there is a broken space (especially due to broken equipment) could do wonders for building customer trust. Source: Miguel Á. Padriñán at Pexels

Suddenly I understand why that’s empty and I’m glad because it makes me feel like you’re on top of things. You’re looking out for me, you’re keeping up with maintenance. I’m much more comfortable buying those eggs and milk on the shelf above.

And yet, time after time in pretty much every grocer lately, I’ve seen these issues and there’s nothing, there’s no sign. Pardon our progress. Sorry, we’re resetting this aisle. Store under renovation you know, repairs underway. Anything to let me know what’s going on in the store?

Head Office Involvement

I think it’s a simple fix that the head office can sit down and think of all the things that could go wrong in a store come up with simple signage solutions, and ship them out to every store.

They keep them in the back room and the manager can pull from them as needed. Think about cooler work with Hussman or True, or whoever you’re getting your coolers from, and figure out, work out a solution that maybe some of the cost is shared that you have signage too.

Indicate various repair situations that are inevitable in any kind of equipment situation where you have coolers, they’re going to break, they’re gonna need repair, they’re gonna need maintenance. So, tell the customers about this and make the customer feel taken care of rather than mystified and uncomfortable.


How to Manage Broken Spaces?

Larry, I don’t know if you’ve seen anything like this yourself in stores.

It’s great you talk about this because it’s an ongoing problem I’ve seen as well. With inflation being a key topic of discussion and grocery chains making so much money, you would have imagined as a shopper that they would be a little more up maintaining the freezers and the surroundings and the fixtures.

It’s fundamentally an engagement topic for me. From the very beginning when I decided to go to a particular grocery store, I expected how it should look, and how clean it should feel.

All the senses that I have with interacting inside the grocery store manage my expectations and how I feel. Do I feel safe inside the grocery store? Is the produce looking good? Are they being watered? What is the meat section looking like? Are they repacking food that may not be so good, or are they putting the fresh stuff on the shelves?

Perception of Quality

In your case when you’re talking about the freezer looking like it’s about to break down or it’s actually broken down, but not being tended to, a customer would feel,

“Well, wait a minute. I expect that the food inside the freezer would be at the optimum environment so that when I take it and then bring it home, I would transfer something that is of a higher quality to a place that to me, it’s safe.”

If I see something on a broken shelf, I would imagine immediately that the product itself is not of the best quality possible.

Shoppers perceive a higher sense of quality when a grocery store is well-lit and does not have any broken spaces. Source: YouTube.

That may not necessarily be true, but that’s exactly how people perceive the experience to be. There is a responsibility and accountability of the grocer to think about how to have that customer engagement. Do we care about you? If we cared enough, we would have a physical sign that may not be very difficult to put together and headquarters designed. Perhaps with something fun in mind or part of your brand exercise included.

What I don’t like to see, sometimes it’s just a piece of paper saying, “It’s broken or that it’s up for maintenance and it’s handwritten. No matter how good the handwriting is, you just feel like it’s haphazard rather than something that was either number one planned or number two, really taking into consideration the overall engagement and overall customer experience.

Ways to Engage Customers to Reduce Uncertainty and Doubt

There are many ways to engage people. You mentioned earlier that it would have been great to see a physical sign saying certain components are under renovation, under maintenance. People shopping online or with a mobile app, that they know in advance certain things are happening then they would be able to readjust their expectations.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I think that it’s an opportunity, not a problem. The opportunity is that looks matter to anyone. If all your experience with a person, a place, or a thing is what you see with your eyes, or hear with your senses.

Perception of quality can be affected by grocery stores’ maintenance of their coolers and shelves. Prolonged broken spaces due to broken equipment could be seen as a quality issue. Source: Michael Burrows at Pexels

Then you’re gonna form an opinion based on your interpretation of that. When you get to know somebody underneath, you spend a little bit of time with them and you start to learn about what makes them tick. That’s where you start to form a connection with that person.

How many times have you thought somebody is a jerk at work? And then you find out they’re taking care of their mother. They’re up nights and they’re not getting enough sleep. Suddenly all of that irritation disappears, and now you feel some empathy for this person and you care about them and you wanna help them.

Sounds like an example that doesn’t relate, but it does because that feeling works across the board. if you feel like you’re being communicated with and taken care of and this retailer is trying their best and got a problem they’re working on. They’ve made a nice sign, or they have converted one of their digital screens to show work in progress, maybe even to try to give me an estimate.

ETA of when I can expect the fix. Then I’m gonna feel like, “Oh, they’re doing their best. They’re working hard.” They understand they’ve got problems, but they’re taking care of me. Now you start to feel a connection to them. You start to feel empathy and that reinforces loyalty.

Consistency Builds Loyalty – A Simple Cardboard Sign

You now know what’s going on. So you’re gonna be loyal to this retailer, and that is especially important with food. It’s important with any retailer. But food has such a sense of, you mentioned, “quality”. The opposite of high-quality food is food you don’t wanna eat.

None of us wanna feel will purposefully eat inferior food. It’s an opportunity to reinforce that loyalty and build a bond with a customer that’s gonna turn them into a customer with a higher lifetime value to you, which will more than justify the small expense of the tools that you could create through your head office resources even to help communicate what’s going on in the store.

Having that consistent experience would be great. If the signs are created and used across the board, then people feel familiar with them.

Regular grocery shoppers have muscle memory on items’ location. Having a digital sign (“cardboard”) to redirect these shoppers to items in broken spaces could be very useful. Source: Isaque Pereira at Pexels

That’s amazing. More importantly, I would love my local grocery store to tell me in advance if the ice cream aisle is under renovation or maintenance but ice cream is being sold somewhere else in the supermarket.

I would love that in advance. I think in a really hot summer and we have seen that across North America, the worst thing to see is to go to the ice cream aisle, only to find out that there is no ice cream.

But in fact, They do have ice cream, it’s just located in another place. You spoke of opportunities. There are so many opportunities to reengage and people don’t mind being reengaged, especially on a timely basis.

On that note thank you for listening. If you like this podcast, please like and subscribe and we will talk to you next time.

Key Summary

Importance of clear communication and customer engagement in grocery stores

Broken spaces can create a sense of foreboding for shoppers and retailers should take steps to explain what is happening and why. They suggest that retailers create a playbook of signage solutions for common problems and that they use digital signage and mobile apps to keep customers informed of store changes.

Here is a more detailed summary:

How empty shelves and broken equipment can create a sense of foreboding for shoppers. They argue that this is because people subconsciously associate these things with failure.

Retailers should take steps to explain what is happening and why. This could be done by placing signs in the store, or by using digital signage or mobile apps.

Retailers create a playbook of signage solutions for common problems. This would make it easier for store managers to quickly and easily communicate with customers.

Clear communication and customer engagement are essential for grocery stores. They believe that these things can help to build trust and loyalty with customers.

* Retail Mashup made some modifications to the transcript to improve understandability and flow.

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