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Image From The Customers' Point Of View

When we begin working with a new c-store retailer client we ask them to tell us about their locations. At some point in the conversation they talk about their image. Most include use words like clean, neat, friendly, etc. We can tell that they believe that they have a good image in the marketplace. Sadly the reality we find when we tour their site(s) often does not make the retailer's perception.

Why the disconnect between their perception and what we find? While there might be a variety of reasons, it is generally because they don’t see their sites from a customer's point of view. They have owned/operated the site(s) for so long that they see what they expect to see, not what is really there. Or if they see what's there they don't recognize the impact of what they see on the consumer's perception of the site.

Cleanliness:
Many of the owners we work with are men. They fail to understand that what is acceptable to them may not (actually is likely not) acceptable to a woman. One example would be cleanliness. In our house we have three standards of clean:

  1. kid clean (wiped the "dirty" areas of the counter with a sponge)
  2. husband clean (wiped the entire counter with a sponge and rinsed out the sponge)
  3. wife clean (wiped the counter with a sponge, including moving all the items on the counter and cleaning under them, rinsed out the sponge and put away properly, and then wiped it down again with Windex).

In most cases what we find in c-stores is somewhere between kid and husband clean and it is not good enough, especially if the retailer has foodservice. Seems "ok" until a woman notices that the area until the snack rack in the coffee areas is dirty and her perception of the entire store is tainted by it.

Clutter:
The retailer sees a store with lots of displays designed to created impulse sales via offering the customer good values. The customer sees clutter.

This is also true for the smaller secondary displays that are so popular today. One reason c-store foodservice programs have such a poor image is that they often look like a counter that someone "stuck" stuff on rather than something that was planned. These displays certainly play a role in the cluttered appearance of this area. All are special use – design to hold one manufacturers product so there is a jumble of different sizes, materials, colors, etc. In some case there are so many of them the there is not a place (landing area) for the customer to put down the drink to put its lid on. Retailers see this as well merchandised – customers see it a mess.

The same can be true for signage – retailer see lots of customer communication about the items for sale. The customer sees so many signs that they ignore them all.

Easy of Shopping:
Following up further on displays. A simple rule of thumb to follow is that customers are happy to walk by displays, but don’t like walking around them. Having to do so, changes their image of your store from one that is easy to shop to one that is not.

Retailers see the counter as valuable sales space. Customers see it as a place to set their purchases. This is even more true with scanning because the sales associate has to be able to maneuver the item to scan it. If the space is limited it implies to the customer that perhaps the retailer didn’t think they would be making a "large" purchase and perhaps they were wrong to do so.

Traffic Flow:
Most c-store retailers understand the overall traffic pattern in their store. However, many fail to understand the actual purchase process. A classic example is coffee. Most fail to have their coffee area organized so the customer traffic doesn't have to double back to get lids, condiments, etc. A noted consultant, Paco Underhill refers to this as the "butt brush rule."

If it is difficult to complete the purchase it negatively impacts the image of the overall store even thought it may meet all the other positive image criteria. This is especially true for women who don’t like having to brush by other customers, especially men.

Another area where this same issue comes up is the cooler. There should be enough space between the cooler and the end caps so the customer can open the door and not interfere with other customers ability to go behind them.

Customer's Perception / Your Reality:
We often state "the customer's perception is the reality the c-store retailer has to work with." In the case of image you have to see you store as the customer sees it to truly understand your image in the marketplace. We often advise the retailers to continue checking the perception of their stores by having someone they trust provide them honest feedback. No one likes to hear that their image doesn’t match their perception of it, but if you want to have a good image you have to remember the customer opinion is the only one that counts.

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