Spitzit’s House

Where serious topics come to relax

Albertsons – Modern Grocery Shopping at its…well, mediocrity.

Remember the good old days when going to the market to get your groceries was a positive experience. That was back in the days when ‘customer service’ wasn’t even a necessary business catch-phrase. That’s because it was just a cultural norm in the way people treated each other.

The grocery market has been the epicenter for social interaction for hundred or even thousands of years for many cultures around the world. It is the center point of the community where the local denizens must come to purchase or trade for their daily and weekly food staples and living necessities, where they visit and catch up on news, gossip, etc. Maybe that still exists untarnished in other parts of the world, possibly in other parts of our country. For the most part, it is a long lost part of American history, that took its last breath probably some time in the late seventies or early eighties when the corporate grocery giants began to really take over and virtually snuffed out this iconic part of American culture.

I used to actually enjoy grocery shopping. I enjoyed the whole process of selecting fresh produce, interacting with the people, seeing my neighbors, talking to the butcher about how to prepare different cuts of meat, etc. But then the grocery shopping experience changed, and what was once a fun weekly trip to the market became a dreaded chore.

I will focus primarily on Albertsons, because that is where most of my negative experience has been, but I have experienced the same or similar at Kroger, Tom Thumb, and other like stores. The negative experience can clearly be defined as just plain bad customer service. We have all experienced it time and again. Maybe many of even became desensitized to it to the point we didn’t care anymore, but I personally had finally had enough one day last December and wrote the following letter to the executive corporate staff and customer relations of Albertsons, LLC…

Gentlemen,

I recently submitted the letter below to your service email address. Like yourself, I am a corporate executive and I want you to know that I rarely write letters of this nature. However, in this case I was compelled to do so because I truly felt that it was warranted after so many bad experiences with service in your stores. As executives, I am not sure that letters of this nature ever reach your desks. I know the positive ones do, simply due to the fact that most are quick to wave the flag when it comes to receiving kudos which is fine. Unfortunately, I am not able to bring kudos to you on customer service. I feel obligated to pass this to you directly for your own review. True customer service seems to have become a lost cause in our country as the paradigm has shifted to “self-checkouts” and minimal human contact with the customer in the store. Good intentions to create “convenience” have in fact diminished the virtue of customer service. Fortunately, for the consumer there is a new generation of stores being born, and they are focused to the neighborhood grocer/market service we all knew when we were growing up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I apologize for going long and I do appreciate your consideration and attention.

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is not to notify you of your products, or whether we were charged incorrectly or received damaged goods, etc. which seems to be the main focus of your “Customer Satisfaction Guarantee”. This letter is to constructively inform you of how unbelievably poor your customer service is in general. Of course, it is only my opinion, but I will be objective, constructive, and detailed.

For years I have shopped in your stores and been patient with the immaturity and indifference of your staff. I am not talking about any particular one of your stores as it has always seemed to be pretty consistent with any Albertsons I have ever shopped at. The point is, when I am being checked out at an Albertsons grocery store, I, the customer, feel invisible to the person checking me out. My final straw was about a month ago when I was shopping at one of your stores in Wylie, TX….

My wife and I are standing in line to be checked out. A young male employee had just requested us to get into this particular line to be checked out. There is one lady in front of us being checked out by a female checker. The young male employee is at the checkout line next to us and he is having a conversation with the young lady checking out our line. He seems to be very concerned about when he is going to take his break, and is wondering when she will be back from her break. Keep in mind that we are the customers, so we are invisible to these two and their important conversation. At one point in the conversation, the girl replies back to him that she would have been leaving and getting back from her break sooner if he had not just put these people (meaning us) in her line. At this point my wife looks at me and asks “did she just say what I think she said?”. Yes, she did. The conversation continues, and then she says a similar statement about “these people in her line” as if we are stupid and can’t hear them talking about us. At this point my wife has had enough, she calmly states “we are terribly sorry to inconvenience you and your break time, so we will just go ahead and leave.” At this point we walk out and leave a basket full of groceries sitting in the aisle. Both of them look dumbfounded as we walked out, as if they can’t understand what just happened or can’t believe that we aren’t stupid and we can actually hear them. The young male runs out into the parking lot yelling for us to come back and stating, “sir, ma’am, she was talking to me, not to you!” Well, that is kind of the point isn’t it. She was in fact talking to him…about us…and their stupid break time. Needless to say, I am not going to stop in the middle of a parking lot to have a conversation with some 18 year old kid on the fundamentals of customer service.

As I stated before, I had become quite used to the poor service of your checkers and baggers talking to each other about their weekend, or what they are going to do that night, etc. They talk to each other and not the customer standing in front of them. When they do talk to me, it is generally forced, almost robotic, and obviously insincere. I have even experienced the managers talking or scolding employees right on the floor in front of me, which is unprofessional and I have no desire to see. I have another Albertsons down the road in Murphy, TX and these are the two closest grocery stores to my residence. I have shopped at many others as well, but I am done now. Yours are the only stores that I have experienced such consistently bad service in. I now drive 20 minutes out of my way to a Market Street grocery store to pay more for my groceries and receive attention and service that is not even in the same dimension as your stores.

Your “Customer Satisfaction Guarantee” is empty and meaningless if you do not train your people to live by it, and if you do not put the proper leadership in place that will lead by example and truly watch over the staff in place. I understand that much of your staff is often minimum paid high school kids, but that is your choice and you are accountable for their behavior. Even kids are trainable if it is done properly and they understand goals and ambition, etc. Your stores are nice and clean and your products are fine, but that is not good enough if you want to continue growing and stay successful in a highly competitive industry. You are in a new world of competition with a new age of grocery stores appearing that focus on quality products and more important “outstanding service”, which seems to be a long lost and forgotten quality from the past.

I am a senior executive in my company and I demand excellent customer service and accountability from my staff. I would not say I am hyper-sensitive to the issue of customer service, but I am aware of what is good, average, bad, very bad, or otherwise, and I assure you without any hesitation that Albertsons lacks true quality in customer service. It is bad and for that, I am no longer a customer. I hope this is helpful and hope you will begin to make the necessary adjustments in your organization to correct this before it is too late. Thank you for your time.

I did get a phone response from at least one of the executives and a call from the store manager. I appreciated the apologies, but my question to them was “do you shop in your own stores, and are you really satisfied with the service you get?” I didn’t really get a direct response, but after nearly 10 months, I returned to the stores to the pleasant surprise of friendlier service and what was evidently a possible change in customer service training. Don’t get me wrong, the service was not stellar, but was a vast improvement over the crap that it was before.

Market Street and Central Market are a new breed of grocery stores that cost more, but provide way better service in most cases. I personally love Market Street because it reminds in a lot of ways of how it should be in a grocery market. Friendly people, smiles, and a staff of people that seem to genuinely care how you are doing and what they can do to help. Alberston’s has since improved somewhat in my neighborhood, but it took more than 9 months before I would even step foot in one of their stores to give it a try again.

I can only imagine that this is a highly competitive industry with Walmart on one end of the spectrum capturing the frugal demographic with their low cost and decent service, and the new breed of Market Streets and Central Markets on the other end providing excellent product and customer service. Albertsons and everyone else is in between and quite possibly feeling the squeeze. How do you adjust to stay on top or even stay alive for that matter? First thing I would suggest, provide better customer service to your customers.

UPDATE November 17, 2008: I have returned to shopping at Albertson’s after a long hiatus and received some unexpectedly friendly service from none other than a girl that was bagging groceries. Being fair, I wrote another letter to Albertson’s management letting them know of the positive experience. They of course were happy to hear of it and advised me of the training they implemented and a new policy called the “four (4) tile rule.

The four (4) tile rule basically means that if any employee of the store is standing or passing within 4 floor tiles of a customer they must speak to them or greet them in a friendly manner.

As it turns out, upper management may have implemented such a rule on paper, but I can assure you that it is not followed in the store. My positive service experience was just an anomaly in that Albertson’s just seemed to have accidentally hired this one girl who is just naturally friendly. She is nice every time I encounter her at the store. Everyone else is pretty much the same.

I have personally tested the “4 tile rule” several times to the point of coughing or sneezing to make sure the Albertson’s employee is aware that I am there…within four tiles of them, but to no avail. They do not respond or acknowledge at all. It is actually very humorous, and has become a game I play with my children in the store, where we see who can get an employee to actually speak to us without us speaking to them first. Our only rules are that it has to be an employee out in the store, no cashiers, baggers, or deli employees. You can not touch or bump into them either. You just have to be with 4 tiles and the rest should just happen. Sounds easy enough, but trust me, getting an Albertson’s employee to initiate speaking to you on their own is no easy task at all.

September 8, 2008 - Posted by | Everything Else | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. […] into an ongoing ‘Do-It-Yourself’ project for shoppers. Scan-boxes showed up for price checks, baggers disappeared altogether, and then consumers were actually encouraged to check themselves out at the register. All of this […]

    Pingback by Christmas Miracles Abound! « Busy Biz Wiz | December 2, 2008

  2. Wow what a bad experience with albertsons, but it is common in this day.
    About the “new” 4 sqaure rule they told you about…… It has been in place since I can remember and started with albertsons more than 15 years ago. so this was nothing ‘new”.
    Just another way to calm down a customer and having to not do anything real about our customer service problem which is caused by no labor dollars for the stores.

    Comment by Albertsons employee | December 7, 2008

  3. It is nice to know that I was basically lied to by Albertson’s executive management. I am not surprised at all though. In an economy riddled with bailouts and failing companies, it takes no rocket scientist to see that the problems start at the very top of the executive flow chart.

    I saw the demise of Circuit City coming over a year ago, and can foresee the same for Albertson’s for all the same reasons.

    Comment by spitzit | December 8, 2008


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: