20.12.12

What's Your Limit on Bull Hockey?

So I've lived in the same home now for almost 13 years. One things that length of time means - aside from buying a house for cheap, a few years later thinking it's worth way more than I paid for it, then a few years after that realizing it's not - is that I have gotten to know the stores in our neighborhood.

This is a Google pic of my Circle K
This is a Google pic of my Circle K
This is an actual Google pic of THE Circle K

Specifically I'm thinking about the Circle K convenience store, which is reachable from my house in about thirty seconds by vehicle and five minutes or so by foot.

 

I've spent a lot of money at this store. The gas isn't the cheapest in town, but it's by far the most convenient for me.

 

The beer is more expensive than the grocery store (also nearby), but it's just easier to pull in and grab a sixer on the way home.

 

The coffee they serve in the morning is not great, but there is a lot of it and I can grab a cup on my way to work in seconds.

 

Then there are the Gatorades during a 110 degree July afternoon, the Altoids to keep me from melting my customers with dragon breath and the morning donuts I sometimes buy when I don't feel like cooking a weekend breakfast.

 

And I knew everyone there. I knew the names of all the clerks, while most of them knew mine. I like it that way. I'm the guy at the grocery store who will say hello to the clerk or the stocker or the butcher because we've had conversations and know at least a little about each others lives.

 

And many of them stayed there for years.

 

Nothing is particularly cheap, by the way. But everything is very convenient. Or was...

 

I guess things started to change about two or three years ago. I don't know if a new owner took over or some new profit genius was hired or increased competition forced the owners to try and find new ways to make money or what.

 

But things began to change.

 

 

Upsell

The first evidence of this was the weekly upsell. Suddenly every time I came to the checkout counter with my goods, there was something on display that was a great buy. These might be giant muffins or bags of nuts or colorful (and unfamiliar) candy bars. The deal was usually if I bought two of them, they'd only cost me about half of what they normally cost. Or sometimes they would pair two items, like a giant bottle of water and a bag of jerky.

 

And the clerk was forced to pitch the item. There was definitely some incentive involved in getting people to purchase the deal of the week. It was a contest (so the owner only had to pay one of them) and I don't think the winner got much. But it was enough (along with the camera surveillance) to keep them on task.

 

Can you imagine being pitched something you didn't want, that I couldn't imagine anybody wanting, once or twice a day, every single day for the last three years?

 

Also, they cheated. God love 'em, they found ways to get credit for sales they didn't make. Mostly this was done when I would buy coffee. Coffee's not a counted item. Shrinkage can happen there. So I got to buy a coffee and the clerk grabs a bottled water behind the counter and rings it up instead. Because that water is the deal and the cost is about the same as the coffee. I might save a couple of pennies and she gets a check mark for the contest.

 

So I have to take time to listen to the pitch and I have to say no. And worse, I have to listen to the pitch said to all of the people in front of me in line. Did I mention this caused lines? Before there was almost never a line. Now, almost always.

 

Blood pressure check.

 

 

Credit or Debit

I think after that they replaced the POS (point of sale) machines. Maybe they changed banks to a cheaper deal? No idea. But from that point forward, using debit was a symphony of button pressing that would give Bach pause. And after every press, it took several seconds for Mr. POS (also known as piece of you-know-what) to register said choice. Worse, the clerk felt they had to coach each person through the new code. "Press the green button." "If you want cash press the yellow button." "Now it's going to show you the full amount and if you dig that, press the green button again, twice." "Oh, and once more for the orange button, please, darlin'."

 

I switched to credit, quickly, although I HATE to sign my name. There's a pen involved. I don't hate it because of the germs. I hate it because the pen must be located, delivered to me and work well enough to complete the task.

 

And even though I switched to credit, many folks didn't possibly because they hated signing even more than I did

 

All of this "new" technology immediately lengthened the lines even more.

 

Blood pressure check.

 

 

Kickback Cards

Ah, the Kickback Cards ala kickbacksystems.com. This is a 3rd party customer rewards company that offers to build customer loyalty and increase revenue by having repeat customers use the card and earn points (1 penny worth for every dollar spent) and sometimes win a prize, like a free fountain soda or cup of coffee.

 

Bear with me for a second. I'm going to quote some bits from the kickbacksystems.com site under the FAQ page.

 

Under "How does a loyalty program benefit my customers?" it says in part:

"Generally, customers will feel appreciated, rewarded, vested and respected for their patronage. They will 'want' to give you more of their business. They will be less inclined to do business with your competitors."

 

Under "What can I do with the data that is collected on my customers?" it says in part:

"...you will likely have information on the individual shopping behaviors of your members. You will know who they are, when they come in, and what they buy, etc...our Customer Relationship Management department are experts...and will assist you with getting the most out of your data."

 

I don't have any issues with customer loyalty programs. I do have issues with information farming and this thing reeks of it. The online registration of your card is full of questions I don't answer for most people I know well, let alone a company I have no direct connection with at all.

Despite the lofty prediction, the Kickback Card has had the opposite effect on this customer.

 

Aside from that fact, guess what the Kickback Card system does to the speed at which I can purchase my Diet Pepsi and bag of Peanut M&M's? Well, if you have a card, you have to swipe it before they ring you up. If you don't have a card, the clerk will do everything they can to get you signed up.

 

Because guess what the new contest is all about. Yep. It's all about how many customers the clerk can get on the Kickback Card system. And somebody's probably going to win a hundred bucks at the end of the month. Good for you.

 

All this swiping and signing up boils down to one thing for me: time.

I know this is Trader Joes and not Circle K, but look at that line!
The lines are now even longer, sometimes 8 or 9 deep. For a place that calls itself a convenience store and has the junk to charge more for everything because of the convenience they offer, that much of a line is a deal killer.

 

I realized today that I don't shop at Circle K the way I used to. Instead of going in every day, sometimes more than once, I go in a few times a week. All those steps to increase revenue. If I'm any indication, the opposite is true.

 

A couple blocks away is a place called a grocery store where I can buy beer. I can save a buck and most of the time get in and out of that store faster than Circle K. I've gone back to making coffee at home, saving money there and actually saving time from the hassle of fighting the morning rush. I can get Gatorade in bulk and buy two boxes of Altoids when I'm at some other store and feeding my kids donuts doesn't send the right message anyway.

 

And the clerks I knew have all flown the coop, I think because they aren't sales people. They are retail clerks. Their job isn't to squeeze every dollar they can from me and waste my time doing it. Their job is, or was, to give me the fastest possible service and charge me a little extra for the convenience. And while I like the new breed of clerks as people, I'm sick of being sold. And this is coming from a loan officer, who spends a lot of his time in the arena of sales.

I think this happens a lot. When a company reaches a certain size, often the dollar becomes more important than the customer and convenience (see service) is lost. It's happening to Facebook right now as a matter of fact, and consequently I'm losing interest.

 

How important is convenience to you? Is our sales culture turning you off? Facebook wearing you out? Do you think I'm too sensitive to it? I'm an extremely time conscious person, so maybe...

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Casey

 

1 comment:

  1. Casey - While New Zealand retailing is not *quite* as aggressive as this, I hear you loud and clear. Likewise, Facebook is losing what little appeal it had, as you say. I'm tiring of all this kind of 'noise' in my life, I can tell you that.

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