Category Archives: Customer Service

Kroger’s New Mobile Market A Joint Effort with Food Bank

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Kroger’s 44-foot long mobile market   (The Courier-Journal)

Not content to offer plenty to attract shoppers into its stores, Kroger has launched a mobile store – to take food and more to where their neighbors live. Called the Zero Hunger Mobile Market format, the single-aisle store-on-wheels was introduced by the Louisville Division to serve neighborhoods with limited or no access to fresh foods and vegetables, And Know U Know reported August 15.

“There Are Other Ways”

Quoting Erin Grant, Corporate Affairs Manaager and Media Spokesperson for the division, ANUK said Krroger believes “It does not have to be a brick-and-mortar store for us to provide access to healthy food for people. That might not always be the solution. There really are other ways.”

This way, serving up 20+ meat items and close to 60 produce selections curbside around the city, is an envelope-stretcher. In reaching out to actual or near ‘food deserts’ – areas supermarkets shy away from – is an anything-but-inexpensive way for the nation’s Number 2 (after Walmart) food retailer to grow its customer base.

And while that’s certainly an objective, Kroger officials are, in expanding their coverage in this way, acting on a long-time company objective: To serve, in the best and most effective ways possible, the communities it serves. Thus this partnership with the “Dare To Care”13.4 foodbank.

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Inside Kroger’s 44-foot long mobile market   (The Courier-Journal)

Due to visit 29 locations this month (August), the colorfully-outfitted, 44-foot long (13.4 m) trailer offers close to 200 different items. It’s been a huge hit with shoppers, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported on Aug 15.

Two Fridge Cases Onboard

The paper noted that the mobile market’s product range includes two refrigerated cases holding meat, milk, eggs and cheese, among other items; A row of shelves contains baking ingredients, pasta, cereal and other pantry staples. A wall displays fruits and vegetables, from mustard greens to clementines. The market does not sell chips, soda or alcohol,” the article added.

And why should it? Those (chips, soda, alcohol, etc.) are what local ‘markets’ in food deserts specialize in.

Good job, Kroger!

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Pennies (Not Quite) From Heaven: Flyers Abandon Nearly $1m At Airport Security

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Talk about unintended consequences: The ‘take-off-your-shoes-empty-your-pockets’ routine at American airports – all in the name of security – accidentally netted the government nearly $1 million in left-behind change and bills last year. That, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) said, was the total in coins, loose bills and way more of the latter left in wallets and purses – plus an unknown number of belts, mobile phone, and other personal items – left in the plastic bins at security check points. (As you’d imagine, many of the phones and laptops eventually made it home. The cash, USA Today reported, has been given authority by Congress to spend the money however it sees fit to improve security. In past years, the TSA’s ‘tips’ have gone toward upgrading security signs and Precheck travel-expediting systems.

TSA reported the five airports ‘contributing’ the most the year’s unintended bounty broke down which airports ‘contributed’ what amount: NYC’s JFK Airport, came in at No. 1 with more than $72,300, followed by LAX at nearly $71,800, and then Miami, Chicago’s O’Hare, and New Jersey’s Newark airport. The airport where travelers hold tight to their legal tender? Nevada’s Reno airport, which only yielded $19.85 in 2018. And chances are the Reno passengers left little more – if that much – in the change slots at the slot machines!

I don’t know if anyone’s tracking it, but chances are that as supermarkets increase self-service checkouts, customers requesting ‘cash back’ from credit or debit cards are forgetting to grab it from the machine. (I’ve done it at least twice!)

An important reason that happens is because the cash-return slot tends to be below one’s usual eye-sight range. That, and the fact that customers, at that point in the shopping experience, want it behind them.

I once was chased into a Walmart parking lot by an associate waving my $20 bill in the air.  Some others probably haven’t been so fortunate.

Details — such as where cash-return slots are placed on checkout machines — can be costly to supermarket operators, because even when you aren’t paying attention, you can bet shoppers are!

‘Customer Complaints? Here’s How To Deal With Them’: Advice From USDA

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The following is a press release from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2019 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued today a best practices guideline to help the meat and poultry industry respond to customer complaints that are determined to be associated with adulterated or misbranded meat and poultry products.

“FSIS has placed renewed emphasis on industry responding to customer complaints of foreign materials in meat and poultry and, as required, reporting those incidents to the agency within 24 hours once the determination has been made that the product is adulterated,” said FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg. “We will continue to work with industry and offer guidance to assist them in complying with agency regulations.”

Update of 2012 Regulation

In 2012, FSIS announced a regulation requiring all establishments to report to the agency within 24 hours when they have shipped or received an adulterated product and that product is in commerce. While this requirement has been in effect for several years, recalls associated with foreign materials in product increased in recent years. FSIS intensified efforts and made presentations in 2018 to industry explaining that product containing foreign materials is adulterated even when a physical food safety hazard is not present. Additionally, the agency hosted two industry meetings to discuss an industry-drafted document of best practices for responding to foreign material customer complaints, which was published in August 2018.

FSIS began working on the guideline announced today in mid-2018 to provide reference material on best practices and recommendations on how to receive, investigate and process customer complaints.   While FSIS specifically developed this document to address foreign material customer complaints, establishments can apply the information to other customer complaints of adulterated or misbranded products in commerce. When an establishment needs to recall adulterated product from commerce, the establishment must identify the cause of the product adulteration and take steps to prevent recurrence in its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan, which federal inspectors review.

Agency’s Current Position

The guideline reflects the agency’s current position, and FSIS encourages the industry to begin using it now.  FSIS welcomes public comments on the guideline. The agency will accept comments for 60 days and will then update the document in response to suggestions, if necessary. Comments may be submitted via the federal eRulemaking portal at: http://www.regulations.gov; by mail including CD-ROMs sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Mailstop 3758, Room 6065, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700 or by hand-or courier-delivery to 1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Room 6065, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700. All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the agency name and docket number FSIS-2018-0034

A downloadable version of the draft guideline is available to view and print at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/compliance-guides-index/retail-guidance.

Cheesy Promo Tops The Bill(board) in Toronto

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News of an unusual promotion by Taco Bell in Toronto has prompted comments in The Toronto Sun expressing various levels of interest and disgust as well as one pun that milks the promo for all it’s worth… or less.

The purveyor of pseudo Mexican fast food this Saturday (January 19) will have a billboard next to the company’s main Toronto location dispensing “warm, gooey nacho cheese” onto TB snack items offered up by consumers.

A press announcement declared early this month that the three-hour cheese puffery will promote the launch of the Nacho Cheese Naked Chicken Chalupa, a more cheesy rendition of Taco Bell’s Naked Chalupa – which features a crispy marinated chicken shell stuffed with nacho cheese.

“Can’t wait,” Jason Brearly enthused.

“Somehow I have visions of a billboard beside the highway dripping with cheese [with] seagulls, flies and rats all enjoying the bounty,” David Shortling commented. (He doesn’t note where flies will come from in mid-January.)

How long, wondered Mark Black, “do you reckon before the first botulism case shows up and how long before people find bugs in their nacho cheese?”

Julie Mitchell spread a different message: “What a friend we have in cheeses.”

The weather forecast anticipated light snow and temperatures in the area of -10C (14F) for Saturday.

Marketing Dive noted that the “Cheesiest Billboard” is the latest in a long line of stunts from Taco Bell, which is vying to attract Gen Z consumers, who are showing slightly more interest in fast food than older generations.

Taco Bell in November “hijacked” the Big Ben clock tower in London to celebrate new restaurant locations opening in the city. The famous tower has been under construction and silent for more than a year. Taco Bell worked with a sound engineer to compose the chimes using parametric speakers in the surrounding area to recreate the famous Taco Bell bell toll. The chain also unveiled CrunchWrapping Paper for holiday gift wrap and the Baja Blast Hair Salon offering blue dye jobs in previous marketing stunts last year.

Walmart Boosting E-Commerce Potential

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Walmart’s determination to well-serve its stores’  and customers’ needs in the e-commerce area was boosted a few days ago when the company announced it is adding 2,000 technologists to its existing staff of 6,000 in that area by year’s end.

‘Technologists’ are the Walmart employees who work on the technology powering Walmart stores and the company’s e-commerce businesses, a VentureBeat report noted on June 20.

The new-hire technologists will join Walmart Labs’ offices in San Bruno and Sunnyvale, CA; Bentonville, AR, where Walmart is headquartered; Reston, VA; and Bangalore, India. This role includes data scientists, engineers, and product managers, And NowUKnow explained.

Walmart Labs CTO Jeremy King spoke exclusively with VentureBeat about the division’s hiring plans for the coming year, citing the company’s growing online grocery effort in particular as the reason for Walmart Labs’ expansion. Walmart currently offers customers the ability to order groceries online and pick them up in-store in more than 1,500 of its stores. That count is due to expand to about 2,100 stores by the end of the year, VentureBeat noted.

“Oftentimes we have 50 to 100 items in an order, and we don’t send one picker out to the floor to pick one order and send it back — we’re really optimizing the pickup, and they’re picking somewhere between 5 and 15 orders at a time,” King told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “They’re actually [dealing with] fascinating machine learning problems.”

Walmart’s most formidable competitor in the online grocery pickup space — also known as “click and collect” — is and likely will remain Amazon. That company introduced free, two-hour delivery from Whole Foods stores to Amazon Prime members in certain cities in February. (Amazon acquired Whole Foods in mid-2017.

And while it doesn’t yet offer a click-and-collect option, job listings for pickers in certain cities indicate that it may soon do so.

Danny Silverman, the chief marketing officer at e-commerce analytics firm Clavis, told VentureBeat in a phone interview that the algorithms data scientists at Walmart and Amazon develop to make grocery pickups more efficient will be critical in determining which one gains a better foothold in the space — most click-and-collect services are “are unprofitable to neutral for the retailer, and it’s more about the long-term value of the customer than making money on the [individual] sale.”

“A lot of retailers don’t have real-time inventory management, so it’s very difficult for them to take an online order and then fulfill it successfully — so a big piece of customer satisfaction and winning is going to be on how much they manage their inventory and deliver on [the order],” Silverman added.

Attracting talent to Middle America and the coasts

King also spoke with VentureBeat about the different hiring challenges and advantages Walmart Labs faces with its different offices. Walmart created the Walmart Labs division in 2005, following its acquisition of SiliconValley-based social media analytics company Kosmix, reportedly for more than $300 million.

In Silicon Valley, King acknowledged that tech workers don’t always readily think of Walmart as a technology company. That’s part of the reason why the technology arm is branded as “Walmart Labs.” King said that Walmart Labs often pitches workers on Walmart’s scale.

“Around 140 million people [in the U.S.] walk into a [Walmart] store each week, and getting access to play with that kind of data is intriguing to most people [in the field],” King told VentureBeat.

In Bentonville — where many members of the tech team work on merchandising, supply chain, and point of sale challenges — Walmart Labs faces less challenges from other tech companies for talent. But outside talent is less familiar with what Bentonville — a city of just 48,000 people — is like. The Walmart Family Foundation in recent years has invested in a number of projects to improve cultural and outdoors offerings in Bentonville, such as spending $74 million in developing mountain biking trails around Northwest Arkansas. Walmart is also the sponsor of the Bentonville Film Festival, launched in 2015.

One Family Moved from Philadelphia to Pentonville

Linda Lomelino, currently a senior researcher with Walmart Labs, told VentureBeat that she visited Bentonville twice — once for an on-site interview, and once with her husband and two children — before accepting the job with Walmart Labs and relocating to the area from Philadelphia.

“My husband and I did a lot of research about restaurants and schools and museums and cultural events — and any sort of surrounding experiences that we could have as a family. We also did a lot of research into the demographic profile of Bentonville,” Lomelino told VentureBeat. As of 2017, the city of Bentonville was about 75 percent white, 10.2 percent Asian, 9.2 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 2.7 percent Black, according to Census Bureau data.

King said that Walmart has also tried to create more opportunities for the tech community in Bentonville, hosting Tech Tuesday meet-ups at its office and working with engineering groups and other tech organizations for students at the nearby University of Arkansas.

“I think you’ll see more to come — J.B. Hunt (a major trucking company) and the other [companies] around there are all trying to attract technical talent to the area,” King said.

 

 

 

Walmart, Amazon Go Head-to-Head on Delivery Services

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Walmart has been working hard, in recent months, to outpace and outdo Amazon as much as the latter has been disrupting many competitors in moving products  — including edible ones – to consumer’ doorsteps.

More and more, Walmart commercials and print ads tout its ‘no membership’ plan for no- or low-cost delivery service to consumers’ doors. The company also is growing its car-side delivery service – where a phoned- or emailed-in order is ready to be picked up at a designated store-side place. A  phone call from one’s car at that place to the store’s delivery department gets the order heading out the door.

Somewhat surprisingly, the delivery folks reportedly don’t mind performing their duties even in ‘off’ weather, according to a couple of them at a Lynchburg VA Walmart. Perhaps they are, justifiably, incentivized by tips.

Both of those services work remarkably well. The to-your-door service works better, perhaps, than Walmart imagined. But then, this is a smart company, and it may have realized a clever opportunity for customers living closest to Neighborhood Markets, the company’s scaled-down store model focused on food and little else: With the company’s entire product catalog available, much beyond what the Neighborhood Markets offer can be home-delivered, at no cost to the consumer. How? By delivering from the nearest full-service Walmart!

That is speculation on our part, but conceptually, it makes sense as a solution to a potentially serious challenge to Walmart.

This program also enables stores to cut inventory (in, say, pet supplies) and still offer a ‘full range’ of, products via the delivery option. In practice, this means that, for example, my local Walmart has been able – possibly coincidentally, possibly because of delivery issues – to leave shelves without some popular cat litters while still offering them through home delivery.

On another front – new patents – Walmart scored some seriously interesting ones recently. And Now U Know, the produce industry newsletter, reported on May 31 that recently approved patents included one for a navigation device for shopping cards, a wearable, tracking device designed to improve    employee productivity (think shelf stockers). And instore inventory trackers that can track when stock needs to be reordered – or shelves need to be restocked. A bit more esoteric is a patent that could  provide instore drone assistance for price verification and in-store navigation.

One or several of these concepts could be implemented in a store near you in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Amazon is boosting membership fees for Prime service – which most users value most for its free delivery feature. The company also recently expanded Prime to Whole Foods customers in select areas. More recently still, according to International Business Times, the company expanded Prime offerings to twelve states beyond the original test area around Ft. Lauderdale FL. A company news release said the expansion affects 121 Whole Foods stores in Colorado, Idaho, Arkansas, Louisiana, northern Nevada, northern California, Texas, Utah, and Kansas – as well as the Missouri side of Kansas City.

The company says Prime discounts also are now in place at Whole Foods’ Market 365 stores around the country. That Whole Foods sub-brand was launched in 2015, IBT noted.

 

Lidl Alters Stock, Prices In Danville VA Store

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The Lidl store in Danville, Virginia has been open a couple of months. It’s already made some (much needed) shifts in its product offerings. And, though staff on hand on a recent Wednesday afternoon reported business has been “good,” it was pretty slow on our second visit.

That, for the company, is the bad news. The good news is how ably they work with consumers wanting to return something – often a hassle ao competitors’ stores. On our first visit, we’d bought a device to catch and kill houseflies. It didn’t work. Despite the fact it was many weeks before we could get back to the store (it’s nearly an hour’s drive away), the return process – done at the checkout, not a consumer service counter – went smoothly… once a manager was located: That took a couple of minutes.

A bit later, at the conclusion of the same visit, we realized that a bottle of wine we’d purchased was not the one we wanted – a less than one-third the price of the one we walked out with. I immediately walked it back into the store, spotted the same manager on the floor, and he OK’d a return even though, he said, Virginia law bans the return of wine. (Since we’d only bought it moments before, and had the receipt, he reckoned the law could be ‘waived’ (read ‘overlooked’.) We returned to one of the checkouts – only three were open on this slow afternoon – and were promptly issued a store ‘gift’ card.

Back in the chilled foods section along the right wall, it was clear that someone has paid attention to the fact that people on Virginia’s Southside don’t have much interest in Indian food, as the choices in the heat-and-serve section have been trimmed (to one!) and other, similar meals have been culled, as well.

The bakery’s offerings are more numerous, and samples are more in evidence – with a lighted sign rotating through the day’s offerings.

But one of the greatest changes – hardly unexpected for a new, price-oriented store – has been the push to drop prices – an effort evident in most every department. One dramatic example: whole “young” chickens were offered at $.69 (69 cents) per pound, down from $.99 – the price of comparable birds at Food Lion, along with Walmart, a chief competitor in Danville.

(The town – a small city, actually – used to have two Piggly Wigglys and a Harris Teeter. One of the former was replaced by a Walmart; The latter simply pulled out of the market. There’s one Save-A-Lot, a limited assortment discount store. It’s so NEVER busy, you wonder why it’s still in business.)

Lidl needs to do, in this and other locations, product shifts to reflect the fact locals aren’t interested in “Cheese [or anything else] from Europe”. Most of their new US stores are in small, often rural, unsophisticated communities. The natives there don’t know (or care) about brie or other ‘specialty’ cheeses, or foods from foreign lands. But they do go for Lidls’ bakery goods, many of which – such as fresh bagels, croissants and similar pastries – are all but unknown beyond the products offered in the bake-it-yourself section of the dairy aisle.

Some reports have said Lidl isn’t doing the business it expected to in its launch stores. But as someone pointed out, the privately (German-) owned company has deep pockets, and is committed to a long term success in the US. There is every reason to put faith in that – and the fact that both Lidl and Aldi, it’s German-based cousin, which also is growing its US store count, will continue to disrupt the US grocery-selling scene for years to come.