From this week, the tone of the MamaTray blog becomes a tad more serious and the post, a good degree longer. So maybe grab a coffee before you embark on this one…
I’m taking at look at my experience of certain brands, as a normal customer on the street – not your average customer, given I work in branding, but a paying customer nevertheless.
First up, is Coles. For my non–Aussie readers, Coles is a retail giant (supermarket, plus the usual extensions into areas like car insurance, credit cards and the such like) and Number 2 in this market, with 8.8 million customers. Its biggest rival, Woolworths (Woolies to the locals) boasts 9.5 million customers and has recently been heralded as the most valuable brand in Australia. Grocery prices are eye–wateringly high in this market, compared to Europe for example, so the main focus of the supermarket brands is to talk about value, with secondary messages about ‘freshness’ and ‘quality’.
I’m a regular Coles customer. It was the supermarket located near my first residence in Sydney, ‘fresh off the boat’ from the U.K. and I’ve stayed with it, by and large, for my main weekly splurge. I tend to opt for online shopping, to help improve my overall quality of life, but I also visit the stores from time to time. I have no complaints about the quality of the groceries, they’re always very fresh and well presented, and the delivery guys who come into my home with the shopping have good banter. (Yes, I always put them through their paces, to fully ‘road test’ the customer experience.)
As a retailer obsessed with offering the very best value to its customers, Coles has gone down the path of creating ‘catchy’ (or desperately annoying, depending on your tastes) ad campaigns, complete with slogans galore and 80s jingles, sung by ageing U.K. rockers. (So proud.) The ‘Down Down’ campaign is the most notable of these – it claims that prices on pantry staples and essential items will stay ‘Down Down’ at a consistently low price. Presumably therefore helping you manage your household finances better. Bingo, bango.*
In recent weeks, the campaign has taken on a whole new level. The line is now: ‘Deeper Down Down’. Items which were already ‘Down Down’ are now being reduced even further, some up to 34% lower than the original! However, when I add in the accompanying visual device, for some context, as depicted below – a red, enlarged hand, with pointing forefinger, I’m convinced that at least a few of you will find your minds drifting to the same land of innuendo that I did. (Do any of you remember the lyrics to ‘Deep’ by East 17, btw?)
‘Deeper Down Down’. Really? Is this the kind of language you want/need to see from a leading brand? Or a retail brand which offers products that line your pantry (ahem) and comms that constantly pervade your consciousness? I wasn’t convinced this new direction was a goer, so I tweeted Coles about it. To their credit, they replied. That’s all I wanted. A brand that responds to my concerns and one that acts like a human being:
BUMPS IN THE ROAD
As I mentioned, I’m most likely to do my Coles shopping online. What I’ve started to notice, is that it seems to be very hard to deliver a consistent, seamless customer experience through this channel, despite recent upgrades to the web portal and ‘back room’ technology.
My typical experience goes a little something like this…
1. I carefully plug in my (extensive) weekly shop, from the comfort of my sofa/bed, on the iPad, using the absolute God–send of a tool called the ‘Usuals’ list, that keeps a record of all of the products I have ever purchased.
2. When I checkout, I inevitably get told (by an annoying pop up) that some of the products I have chosen are not stocked at my local store. This is confusing.
• Firstly, why do I, as the online customer, need to know that Coles is getting my items from a particular store? Surely, it is one big store. Like one big pie for those who love David Brentisms.
• Secondly, the local store named isn’t actually so local. There are at least 4 nearer stores that I would personally have chosen to get my stuff from. It’s probably a bigger, more convenient store for Coles to use.
• Finally, I have to remove said items, versus take their suggested alternatives – hoisin sauce, for example, is not what I would describe as a viable alternative to French vinaigrette dressing…
3. I finally checkout. The site now has the nifty technology to store my card details, so there’s no more scrabbling around to find the card in question and run the risk of it all ‘timing out’.
4. On the day of delivery, I always receive an email – an email that I dread – informing me that at least 3 or 4 items are out of stock. (Out of stock? You’re a retail giant and things like yoghurts and loaves of sliced bread are not what I would consider to be specialist items…)
5. When the delivery actually comes, however, I often receive some of the items that it claimed were out of stock. And sometimes, I even get the items that it told me were not available at my ‘local store’ that needed removing from my online trolley. Wow, that’s a minefield of missed fine detail. Coles must lose money when its paperwork (and emails) claim items are missing and don’t charge me for them. And, what’s more, I potentially over–order items, as I think they’re not available. That doesn’t represent ‘value’ for either of us.
• Case in point: the man of our household likes a weekly chicken schnitzel. It’s not a big ask. But every time I order them online, they’re out of stock. So, this time, I ordered 2 different kinds of chicken schnitzel, in order to guarantee that at least one pack arrived. On my last delivery, both arrived, despite one being flagged up as ‘out of stock’. Except one pack didn’t contain chicken schnitzels: it was pieces of raw chicken breast that could be schnitzelled (I presume that is a real word?) if I had some eggs, flour and breadcrumbs to hand. The webpage depicted what can only be described as a chicken schnitzel – or a chicken schnitzelled, if I may – not raw chicken breasts. Either way, I only paid for 1 of the 2 packs, so technically no loss from my perspective. Perhaps, even a serendipity.
So, you see my concern. Is the technology behind the online shopping platform not able to keep pace with the shopping lists we order, or is it an issue with back office/operations behind the selection of our items instore by the assigned ‘personal shopper’? Or, perhaps, a bit of both? Either way, the online shopping experience is currently not as seamless as it promises on the newly designed website, and it could potentially damage the overall customer experience of shopping at Coles.
BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
The above ‘bumps’ eventually made me branch out to the enemy and try Woolies online, to compare and contrast. For starters, it didn’t seem as popular, as I could get a delivery slot the very next day. (The Coles one gets booked up really quickly, especially on Wednesdays, the free delivery day. Those slots are like gold dust!) Perhaps Woolies simply have more ‘men on the ground’ but who knows, I’m trying to think like a customer here. Secondly, their delivery charges reduce the more you spend, which made me feel excellent. (The Coles charges go on time of day, so presumably around factors that make it cheaper for them to deliver.)
The process went like this:
1. Aside from the inevitable ‘having to start again’ and choosing all my items from scratch (from a printed–out list of my Coles ‘Usuals’) the Woolies online process was pretty standard. No local store shenanigans, but a different selection of brands to choose from which sent this brand freak into complete turmoil, as you can imagine.
2. There were items I removed from my trolley before checkout, which turned up on the day in the delivery, and I was charged for them, despite not wanting them.
• (In addition, I rashly ordered 7 packs of Roma tomatoes, thinking I was actually picking 7 Roma tomatoes, but luckily they were out of stock, so we didn’t have to eat tomatoes with everything for the next few months. Phew.)
3. The delivery arrived, half an hour early. Bonus. The delivery man said approximately 4 words to me, despite my attempts at a bit of social interaction, and he was gone.
4. I promise I’m not making this up, but guess what was totally missing from the order? The bloody chicken schnitzels!! No out of stock warning, no apology. I got straight onto the customer service line, to discuss, and the whole issue was dealt with in a very slick, professional manner (he rang the driver to check they weren’t still smuggled in the back of his van; they weren’t; he issued a refund which cleared the very next day; there was also a very well branded, email to confirm).
• On the call, I also mentioned the items I had removed from my online trolley, turning up in the delivery, and he agreed that was strange. The next day, I was refunded for them, despite him not telling me this would happen, which I guess would fall into the ‘surprise and delight’ brand behaviour box.
How did I feel after the deed was done and dusted? Hmmm, essentially, a little underwhelmed by my foray into the adulterous waters of a rival service provider. At best, I think I’d potentially play them off against each other, especially when I can’t get a Coles delivery slot until about 5 days after I want one. But, I won’t fully commit to Woolies. I missed the banter, if I’m honest. Getting a bit of chat with my delivery – on the traffic, the weather, how popular raspberries are at the moment, the fancy new handheld devices that are ruining their lives, whatever. So, above and beyond an efficient and seamless experience, I’m after a bit of good, old fashioned, human interaction. I shop online for ease, but that doesn’t mean I want a soulless brand experience.
What I would say to Coles, is that I represent one (particularly demanding) customer segment and there are many others out there, evaluating their own choices of retailer based upon the more tangible, functional experience they receive. And, currently, Woolies just about has the edge on the online shopping front. A little bit like they just about have the edge in the market, per se. It’s not a big edge by any stretch, and it’s begging to be surpassed.
Until next time… ☺
* A phrase used within this post, purely designed for the satisfaction of Mr David Sutherland – the originator of said phrase – and others who are aware of his unique way of phrasing things.