My column about service a couple of weeks ago provoked several responses from readers. It is clear that many of you out there are pretty fed up with not getting the level of service you would like, and supermarkets in general came in for a lot of criticism.
I looked back at the January 2012 edition of Business Today, which identified readers’ choices for favourite supermarkets under the Best Brands of 2011 banner. The top brand in the popular choice category was Lulu, followed by Carrefour, Safeer and Al Fair equally, then Mars, The Sultan Center and Khimji’s Mart. Lulu had twice the number of votes as Carrefour.
I decided to do some personal research, and went to Lulu in Bausher on the morning of February 6, when the store was running a special introduction to British brands. I wondered what I would find.
Well I was simply amazed! The shelves were packed with goodies, from Lee and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, to Roses lime marmalade, to Horlicks, to Rachel’s Welsh yoghurt, and Nescafe 37 (the favourite choice of Charlotte, my wife, aka Management). I found my friend Clare in there filling up her trolley. “It’s like shopping at Tesco,” she exclaimed, “and look, I have found Golden Shredless marmalade, much better without the bits!”
Ananth and Shabeer from the Lulu management explained to me that the British heritage of brands, and the fact that they have been in Oman and the UAE for a long while, had convinced them that this initiative would be successful. New British items in the store also included meat, fish and cleaning products.
I had been to Carrefour a few days previously and helped Management spend RO130 on a big shop to fill up the cupboards at home. All had gone fairly well until the belt at the checkout broke down under the weight of our goods. This was greeted by a shrug from the cashier. The Business Today survey put Carrefour on top for readers in management positions. I am not quite sure how – I am always disappointed with their offering.
So what is it that makes a great supermarket experience? Supermarkets are an integral part of life, and a trip should be enjoyable. A wide range of products, including fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruit is needed, at competitive prices. No one likes brown bananas, mouldy strawberries, or bent tins – they should be cleared away immediately. I liked the Lulu idea of the British initiative, not just because they were products I knew, but also because it was something different. Customers like to try new things. It can be fun.
Supermarkets must be clean and tidy, and many in our city are not. This is a management issue that must be addressed. Other management challenges include shelf stacking, which always seems to be going on in each and every aisle at the same time, and of course the checkout experience.
What a difference it makes when everything at the business end of the visit goes smoothly, with a smile, help with the packing, and a thank you for coming. If supermarket management are unable to encourage common courtesy and good service at the point where their customers are parting with their hard-earned cash, then they are the people who should be held accountable.
Nick lives and works in Muscat and the views expressed in this column are entirely his own