Supermarket service goes old-world

AS budget-conscious consumers tighten their purse strings, supermarkets are being pushed to offer more than discounted prices, according to Queensland University of Technology business researcher Dr Gary Mortimer.

Dr Mortimer, from QUT's Business School, predicts supermarkets will return to the “old days” with retailers offering traditional old-world service.

He said supermarkets were now searching for a point of difference to win back that share of the household spend.

“Customers want more than just low prices, they want theatre and excitement when they shop for groceries,” Dr Mortimer said.

“Grocery shopping is a pretty routine, mundane task and supermarkets know this, and hence this becomes an opportunity for differentiation.”

Dr Mortimer said before the introduction of self-serve supermarkets in the 1950s, suburbs and towns were dotted with traditional grocers.

“These shops offered local product, traditional old-world service – where meats and hams were prepared and cut in front of you – and where customers truly engaged with store personnel,” he said.

“Then throughout the 1960s, supermarket formats changed. The focus became customer self-selection and traditional service was lost.

“Butcheries and bakeries were hidden behind walls. Fresh product was displayed behind glass cases.

“Turnstiles were placed at the entry points. The focus was on efficiencies, food safety and hygiene. The supermarket became a sterile ground, and they all looked the same.”

Dr Mortimer said one chain was already making this happen.

“Supermarkets are becoming more open. The turnstile is going and shoppers are able to come and go as they please, without having to line up like sheep to get into the store,” he said.

“Excitement and theatre is returning.”

Dr Mortimer said supermarkets would need to align their efforts to meet the changing consumer – the green shopper, the tech-savvy shopper or the belt-tightening shopper.

But Dr Mortimer said consumer behaviour was still a numbers game and promotions would still drive store traffic.

“What happens in store when customers arrive will be where the battles are fought and won,” he said.

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