Atop many business award programs sits privately-held and family-run Wegmans grocery stores, from No. 4 on FORBES’ list of America’s Best Employers. Based in Rochester, NY, the supermarket has an ardent fan base – including Alec Baldwin’s mother, who refused to move to California and give up her access to the grocery store – and legions of die-hard shoppers.
And who can blame them? Clean stores, huge inventories, reasonable prices and a seeming dedication to making life easier for its customers, Wegmans offers many lessons small businesses can learn from and apply.
Make Customer Convenience Your Driver. Take a quick look at any Wegmans grocery store and you’ll see expertly arranged produce, wide shopping aisles and smiling employees. But look a little closer and you’ll start to notice the lengths to which Wegmans will go in the name of customer convenience.
More than a decade ago, the company began experimenting with prepared foods – pre-packaged meals that busy parents could swoop in and grab on their way home from work or daycare. They were a hit. Demand for pre-cut fruits and vegetables and complete meals – cooked or uncooked – took off, with Wegmans leading the industry. The in-store sub shop was supplemented with a pizza counter, sushi station, as well as salad buffets, Asian food buffet bars, vegetarian bars, Mediterranean bars and a Caesar salad freestanding unit. Not only could shoppers come pick up milk and eggs, but they can stay and dine on freshly prepared Mexican fare in the Market Café dining room.
In some stores, Wegmans at one time offered dry cleaning, video rental (in the days when you needed a whole department) and childcare – in an effort to be a one-stop-shop for its busy customers.
Consumers today are clearly willing to pay for convenience, so how can you make transactions easier for your customers – whether businesses or individuals? Can you offer free overnight delivery? Can you bundle your estate sale services with junk removal, to help families coping with a stuffed house? Can you offer clothing “on approval” in the customer’s home, rather than requiring a store visit? Can you become a broker of services, like Progressive insurance is, providing a menu of product or service providers for your customers to choose from, rather than trying to sell only your particular brand?
Think creatively to discover what additional service you can offer your customers, which you could also charge for, that would give you a competitive advantage.
Look for Customer Service Opportunities
Another way that Wegmans stands out amongst its retail peers is in its approach to customer service. The chain has a “no questions asked” policy when it comes to returns. Didn’t like it? Here’s your refund. Bought the wrong brand? Here’s your refund.
While the stores do keep track of who returned what, there is never any pushback regarding a refund or exchange request. There is a level of trust that has been established, so that customers know they will never be disappointed with a purchase – if they are, they can easily get their money back.
How do you communicate your customer service polices to your customers? Do you have a “no questions asked” return policy? Do your customers know that? Is it featured prominently on your website, in your work place? How would customers know?
The reality is that offering a satisfaction guarantee has been repeatedly shown to attract more business than it costs. Few people actually take advantage of the return, but more customers are willing to take a chance if they know they can return it if they don’t like it.
Like Walmart in many ways, Wegmans works to leverage technology to enhance the customer experience and reduce costs. It was the first grocery chain in New York and the third in the U.S. to begin using barcode scanners to check out products at the cash register in 1974. It leverages technology to ensure it has properly staffed its stores, doesn’t run out of popular inventory, and stocks the products its customers want to buy.
Its frequent shopper program enables the chain to proactively reach out to customers when it discovers a food recall or other issue, because it precisely tracks who has bought what.
To the surprise of some shoppers, Wegmans was slow to add self-checkout lanes, which it did in 2016, in order to provide customers who want to the convenience of a speedier checkout by doing it themselves.
What new, or older, technology could you incorporate into your business that would improve efficiency, reduce costs, or that would speed some aspect of your work process? Could it be as simple as upgrading the current version of your computer operating system, to reduce system crashes? Or transferring your older websites over to a WordPress platform, which employees could then be responsible for updating? What part of your business is plagued by bottlenecks – could that be a starting point for technology introduction?
Introduce Private Label Products
Wegmans own branded products were first introduced in 1979 and have steadily edged out competing products on the chain’s store shelves. Not only does that provide an added level of control over product quality, but private label products are also more profitable generally.
What related products can you private label? If you’re a hairstylist, can you create your own line of retail hair care items or beauty products? If you run a restaurant, can you turn some of your most popular products – such as sauces, bread mixes, or desserts – into products to be sold at the checkout? Daycare centers could roll out a line of diapers, a landscape service a line of fertilizer, a cleaning service a line of cleaning products and a pet store could develop a line of healthy treats or toys.
Become An Active Community-Member
Residents of Western New York are raving fans of Wegmans, taking pride in their hometown grocer. Part of the reason for that sense of community ownership is that Wegmans is a visible supporter of local events, donating products to area charities, donating millions to area schools and colleges, sponsoring a Wegmans play area in a local museum and paying out more than $100 million in scholarships since 1984 to its workers attending college.
Wegmans is visible in the communities in which it operates. What can you do to demonstrate your commitment to your local community? Sponsor a Little League or bowling team? Organize a group of employees to volunteer at a local clean-up event? Provide financial support for a local project? Invite area scouting groups or classes in to tour your facilities? What does your community need?
Taking steps to make it easier for customers to do business with you and to recognize that you have their best interests at heart can only be good for business, as Wegmans has shown.