The Grocery Store as Social Network

by Ken Mueller on September 17, 2012 · 16 comments

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stauffers 1 The Grocery Store as Social NetworkI’m not much of a shopper, but I really do enjoy grocery shopping. I’m not sure why, but I think part of it is the challenge of getting the best possible deals and seeing how much money we can save. I don’t go to the store very often, but the other day I accompanied my wife to our favorite local grocery store, Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill, which is part of a small regional chain of grocery stores and garden centers. In the end, it was less a shopping trip for me, than it was an experience, and I got to thinking about how this store, and grocery stores in general, are taking their customers more seriously and becoming more like brick and mortar social networks.

Personable – At SKH, you are often greeted at the door by an employee and made to feel welcome. Throughout the entire experience everyone with whom we interacted was friendly and helpful. The people who work there genuinely seem to like their jobs, and that can be infectious. Businesses often forget to be personable online, but it’s key. Be yourself and let your enthusiasm shine through. It helps if you like your job…

Customer Service – Thankfully businesses are starting to rediscover the importance and power of customer service. SKH and other grocery stores, even the larger chains, are realizing that it’s a key component to creating an experience that makes us want to come back. This is driven by the culture of the organization from the top down, along with having a well-trained, knowledgeable staff. This can be seen both online and offline.

Free samples – I admit, this is a big draw for me. Free samples of cookies, bread, sausage, snack dips, and hot mulled cider and more are one of the reasons I love going to SKH. And they work! Quite often we will purchase something that we sampled because it was that good. A lot of what makes a social media plan successful is the ability to allow people to try things out, perhaps for free, and maybe hook them for good.

Special deals – No matter where we went, there were all sorts of sales and special deals. Recent studies from Performics and Chadwick Martin Bailey indicate that social media users connect with brands on Facebook and other social channels because of a desire for deals and special promotions. With so many grocery store options in our area, we often hit more than one store a week in order to get the best deals, and the majority of our shopping might be done at one particular store based on a more long-term promotion such as points toward discounts on gas. Offering deals via social channels is a great way to attract new customers and keep existing customers.

Useful information – SKH is not just in the business of selling products; they also help you understand how to use them. Walking through the produce section can be rather intimidating, with all sorts of odd fruits and vegetables I’ve never seen before. There were at least half a dozen varieties of potatoes from which to choose, but thankfully there was a nice little guide that explained the different varieties with their various qualities, including their best uses. Other areas of the store included printed recipes to give customers an idea of ways to use the products being sold. A business’s social media presence is a great place to offer up free and useful information for customers. Think beyond your core mission and provide information that attracts customers. That’s one of the goals behind my blog here.

Community – We spend a lot of time talking about social media as a community, but it can happen in very meaningful ways. During our grocery shopping trip I bumped into my client Lori Kerr of Custom Cuisine. My wife had never met her, but she reads her blog, so it was a chance for them to connect. Then I discovered that Lori was there to buy ingredients to make a recipe that our mutual friend Amber DeGrace had shared on Facebook. I had seen, and shared, the recipe as well, but in speaking with Lori, we decided to get what we needed to make the same recipe. Those types of connections are what social media is all about. That’s the sort of thing any business should want to happen on their social media outlets. It’s not just about the business connecting to the customer, but getting the customers to connect with one another. That’s what community is all about. Oh, and the recipe we were all trying? Nutella stuffed brown butter & sea salt chocolate chip cookies. You can thank me later.

Customized/Personal experience – At SKH they don’t just cater to the general public. There are sections where you can purchase locally produced products and produce. You can buy organic products, gluten free products, vegan products, a wide variety of ethnic foods, and more. No matter what your dietary interests and restrictions, they have what you need. Social media allows even the largest of businesses an opportunity to offer customers a personalized experience. You don’t have to be just one-size fits all. It takes some time and effort, but you can meet the needs of a wider variety of customers in very personal ways.

Fun – As much as I hate most forms of shopping, a trip to the grocery store, and particularly SKH can be fun. Oh, sure, a lot depends on your attitude going in, but when all of the above factors are in place, it really can be a fun experience. Your social presence should also be fun and entertaining. If it feels like work, customers will stay away. Give them a reason to be there, and create an overall experience that is pleasurable.

Remember: it’s not about you; it’s about the customer.

And you know why this all works for SKH? Because they have the social media mindset. They had it before social media as we know it existed. It was built into the culture of their organization.

What are you doing to make sure you provide a great experience for your customers online? Is your social presence fun, informative, and an avenue for great customer service?

 The Grocery Store as Social Network
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15 comments
kmueller62
kmueller62

@c_pappas Thanks for the share, Christina.

kmueller62
kmueller62

@themediabarista thanks for the share!

kmueller62
kmueller62

@companyfounder thanks for the share!

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Ken, I think it's interesting that you find a lot of grocery stores understand personal service. I find the opposite in most cases -- which makes SKH and a few other stand out.  Last month I wrote about two chains that seem to be going in opposite directions, Trader Joe's and Safeway. Safeway is making a clumsy (imho) attempt to use technology with a mobile app, but there's nothing social about it. If you're interested... http://ow.ly/cYM0i

PipeTweets
PipeTweets

Excellent post.  I love it when a good writing idea comes to you while doing something that you do as a part of your daily/weekly/monthly routine.  I particularly liked the Community section of the post where you tell us about connecting with a client and local blogger, then ended up sharing a recipe from Amber. 

etelligence
etelligence

I guess the grocery store is a social place by default. I've done work for a grocery store this year, and it seems like results come easier. It's hard to drive traffic to a domain, but the visitors return and social media channels scale faster for a grocery store. I wish we had a SKH here.

emilykantner
emilykantner

I do love SKH! Being personable, especially online, is easy to forget, but so important! I believe having a voice that people recognize helps them realize and appreciate that they're dealing with a real person.

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

Free recipe cards and the like are a great example of offline content marketing, too, especially when they're branded with an specific ingredient. One of the earliest examples of content marketing success is Jello. When Frank Woodward bought a slumping Jello brand in 1904, he produced a cookbook featuring Jello in each recipe and sent his sales team out on the road to deliver the cookbooks (for free) directly to households. Result? Brand recognition, trust and $2 million in profits - in 1904.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@barrettrossie Around here we have two larger chains, Weis & Giant, and both are doing a pretty good job, or at least trying. I think it's much harder for the larger chains. I look at Trader Joe's as being a lot like Starbucks, and while Starbucks does a pretty good job online, they are pretty spotty in the way they execute on premises.  SKH is one of a few smaller regional grocery stores that have always been very customer centric and take the local roots very seriously. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@PipeTweets I think most of my posts come while doing things from my regular routine. Certainly makes life more interesting!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@etelligence I see so much improvement in the grocery store sector, and while their websites aren't where people naturally go, there are so many opportunities for them to connect both online with social media, and offline. The thing about it is we all go to grocery stores, so the ones that excel will benefit from getting our business.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@emilykantner They do a great job, and I've noticed the larger chain stores upping their game as well, so it's good for all of us!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@jasonkonopinski I actually have one of the originals of that, and I know my mom has some later editions. That sort of thing was a big part of marketing in the 30s and 40s during the radio era, with free cookbooks, etc tied to specific program sponsors. We sort of got away from that along the way, particularly the 80s and 90s, but it's nice to see a bit of a drift back to that.

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