retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

A conversation with some retailers recently ended up on a not entirely unexpected note. The retailers questioned whether customers actually find any real value from the myriad frequent shopper programs long offered or whether they simply give them another key fob to carry around, another app to install on their smart phones, and more emails added to the deluge crowding their in-boxes.

In other words, do shoppers actually find any value in what you are offering them or are you finding a new way to annoy them?

MNB readers would be well served to return to Monday’s edition to find two very different articles that absolutely nail this issue.

In the first, Kevin’s Facetime video, he recounts an conversation with a checkout clerk at Stew Leonard’s. Two elements of that conversation make that short video an important addition to any training materials. First, the clerk asked Kevin to identify anything about the store that he found special both that day and in the past.

And when Kevin told a story about a former Stew Leonard's employee who had made numerous shopping trips special for his kids, the clerk reacted by observing that it is the "who," not the "what" that often matters most.

That story did more than stop Kevin in his tracks; it actually shined a light on a critical issue in retail. For the most part, the front end is the primary place where a staffer interacts with a shopper, but for the most part, nothing happens. That might partially explain why self-scanning is becoming increasingly popular.

For one moment, forget Covid and just focus on this. The one place in the store where staffers and shoppers can interact is, for the most part, a completely passive, if not negative interaction. A story like Kevin’s stands out because it is so unusual. If the checkout experience adds no value to the customer, it’s no surprise that same customer will opt for a self-scanners or whatever new device Amazon invents and rolls out next week.

But adding value goes much deeper as more aforementioned discussion with retailers suggest. If we enroll shoppers in loyalty programs that in no way seem to celebrate and reward loyalty (beyond small discounts and a stream of e-mail) value isn’t being added. Just annoyance.

That brings us to the second story that appeared Monday - the harsh reaction given Amazon’s new Halo system (including from the Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos), which was described by one tech writer as incredibly invasive and has already triggered talk of a limitations from Congress. Halo tracks a bevy of vital statistics and then goes a few miles further, such as grading the happiness of the user’s vocal tone. In the year of Covid, do we really need a device to tell us we are a little crabby?

Technology can do so much for and to us these days, but as businesses look to employ more they need to ask themselves the same question raised about the checkout experience. “How does this add value to the user experience”?

If the answer isn’t immediate, obvious and important, it’s possible that technology is being added just for technology’s sake, which won’t benefit anyone including the business itself. 

It’s one more reason to remember the incredibly important line from the original Jurassic Park movie, when Ian Malcolm points out that dinosaurs were cloned by scientists who pondered whether they could do something, without once asking if they should.

If you aren’t adding value, then you aren't improving the customer experience.

That's the bottom line.  Think about that as you move forward into 2021.

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 here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.