retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s good reason why topics like e-commerce and omnichannel retailing get so much attention these days and frankly that’s not likely to change soon. But we need constantly remind ourselves that business success comes down to understanding and meeting customers’ needs and satisfying them in new and different ways.

And as customers change, those needs, wants and desires change with them. That’s a simple, yet powerful reason to read with some fear a recent article from the Washington Post laying out many of the shopping quirks of the millennial generation and how they relate specifically to supermarkets.

Trust me on this: you won’t like it!

The writer, who actually covers food for the Post, makes a painful confession. She hardly ever cooks but not because she hates cooking. Rather, she hates grocery shopping so much she’ll do anything to avoid it, which, as she explains, results in her eating hundreds of restaurant meals each year. As the author admits, she is fortunate that she has the means and choices to live this lifestyle, but the hatred she voices for supermarkets is powerful.

Worse yet, her comments are seconded by many of those responding to the article and the piece itself was sent to me by a millennial who wrote simply: “This is how I feel.”


What causes her toi feel such hatred? First, she considers grocery shopping a painful chore, a complaint that resonates through many generations. The simple truth is that people love shopping for certain items (clothing or sporting goods for instance) but see food shopping as a boring, painful chore.

Some of her complaints span the generations. As she writes about the store experience: “My reasons (for disliking it) are as varied as your supermarket’s tomato sauce selection: The lack of clocks and maze-like layout lead me to believe whoever designed the store is tricking me. Putting the milk all the way in the back? Nice try. Why make the trek when the coffee shop on my street keeps it right by the door? (In reporting for this story, I’ve learned that grocery stores keep dairy in the back so they can more easily keep it cold off the delivery trucks, but I’m still annoyed.)”

That last complaint hits of a comment the Content Guy makes regularly. Are the stores laid out for efficiency or the shopper? Clearly, the answer is frequently wrong.

And then we get to a classic millennial issue, the feeling that this chore is something they never quite imagined themselves doing. It may be infuriating, but it’s real and has to be dealt with by retailers.

“Furthermore,” she writes, “stepping foot in a supermarket stokes nearly all of my anxieties: The number of options is crippling for someone who has a hard time making decisions; my internal Peter Pan is appalled that I’m doing something so adult; and as a commitment-phobe, that little bag of baby carrots seems huge when I consider that I’ll be stuck with them until I eat them all (or, more likely, let them rot).”

If you are looking for a silver lining in this, the author admits to disdaining farmers’ markets and shopping services for many assorted reasons. And her litany of complaints would make any marketer wonder if there is a way to possibly delight a shopper like this.

The reality is that there have always been shoppers who dread the task and stores have always fought back with ways to make it increasingly pleasant or interesting. It’s not a battle that can be constantly won, but it must be engaged. Like it or not (and most won’t like it) these shoppers are out there, and in large numbers.

They matter.

Just in case you needed something else to worry about…

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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