Did my democratic duty and voted in the local elections yesterday.
The polling station was only a 5-minute walk away so no big deal to have my say.
On the way back I popped into my local Sainsbury’s to pick up a sweet treat.
Just one item.
Headed for the tills and what do you know?
Each one was busy.
I didn’t bother looking for the self-serve tills at the far end. I refuse to use them. Well, I say refuse. Let’s just say that I rarely use them. On principle.
More of that in a moment.
Anyway, I spotted a till where one customer was about to finish paying and that left just one other in the queue. An elderly gentleman with a modest week’s shopping laid out on the conveyor belt.
He saw me place my bag of raisin and oatmeal cookies behind his goods. And he picked up my treat and promptly placed it in front of his shopping – and ushered me ahead of him.
“No point you waiting when you only have that to pay for”, he said with a smile.
I thanked him for his kindness and made my legal jump of the queue.
We got into a short conversation.
I explained my dislike of the self-service machines. I preferred, on principle, to be served by a real person. The gentleman agreed and said the technology was putting staff jobs at risk. I agreed with that.
It may not be true but it feels true.
And we talked about how we liked to say “hello” and “how are you today?” to the person at the checkout.
Maybe it’s a generational thing?
Before we could put the whole world to rights it was time for me to pay.
I took my treat, thanked the assistant at the checkout and thanked the gentleman again, and wished him a good day.
It might sound like a scene from a period costume drama – but just know that kindness and good manners are not dead just yet.
And the experience got me thinking about the recent news about Sainsbury’s failing in its bid to merge with Asda.
The move would have seen them become the biggest player in the field.
But the move was blocked by the Monopolies watchdog – which is in place to ensure fair competition and look out for the interests of the consumer.
Now, I read in a recent news article that the failed merger bid cost Sainsbury’s £46 million.
Its company share value took a hit.
Sainsbury’s does not seem to have a Plan B, although its CEO Mike Coupe said the aim was to cut prices on many basic food items, invest in improving stores and do more with digital technology.
You may remember this is the guy who – a year ago – was caught off guard when waiting to be interviewed by ITV about the proposed Asda merger. He was filmed singing “We’re in the Money”.
Whilst it may have been an innocent choice of song – from the hugely popular musical 42nd Street – it was a PR faux-pas.
It made the guy look like a smug arrogant (and there are plenty of those in corporate world).
He had no reason to be so cheerful anyway.
Because the merger plan was always going to be a big gamble.
It automatically raised a red flag with the Monopolies board – as I said, the proposal would have made the combined companies the biggest player in town. They’re not just going to say “Sure, go ahead and take all the spoils”.
Sainsbury’s made a big fuss about the deal leading to £1 billion of savings being passed on to shoppers.
But I don’t think they were believed. (Neither by the bureaucrats or consumers).
Sainsbury’s came across as if they felt they were going to sail through with the deal.
Not too many people felt the move was genuinely in the interests of the consumer – more a way for the two businesses to overcome the aggressive threat of new budget players like Aldi and Lidl.
Sainsbury’s look to me like a squealing piggie in the middle.
The better off will look to Waitrose or M&S.
Those on a tight budget are likely to head for Aldi or Lidl.
Those in between may tend to regard Tesco as better value than Sainsbury’s – the former has certainly upped its game in recent years, adding improved customer service with competitive prices.
And then, of course, you have Asda, Morrisons and others in this part of the market as well.
Which leaves Sainsbury’s under pressure.
I won’t use my local store for anything more than a quick shop – for milk or other essentials. There’s a Tesco a bit further away but it’s cheaper and they have more tills manned by real people. So I rarely have to queue there.
The supermarket sector is one of the most highly competitive areas in UK retail.
Customer loyalty is hard won, easily lost.
I think Sainsbury’s has taken an image hit. Many shoppers no longer perceive any extra value in store for the seemingly higher price of their weekly shop.They can get the same level of customer service at one set of rivals. They can secure better price deals at another set.
The squeeze is on.
And although it may not be as obvious or high profile as Sainsbury’s, remember that your business is also in competition for customers with rivals who offer a similar product or service.
You could be an office stationery supplier. A craft shop. A coach. A trainer. A consultant. A camera shop. A video marketing company. An estate agents. An outdoors shop.
There is always somebody else offering similar or the same.
How do you present your image to your audience?
How do you make yourself stand out?
How do you respond to shifts in the market or changes in the world?
Are you playing the price game?
Is your customer service level static or due an upgrade?
Do you have a plan B in case the big one doesn’t pay off?
And do you have a simple way to brighten up your client or customer’s day?
Like the gentleman did by letting me go ahead of him in the queue.
Happy shopping (and selling).