Non-food lines equal higher service levels

David Hogg Retail CPG marketing manager EMEA, Sterling Commerce

Sir; Your story about Sainsbury's expansion into the non-food market highlights that big-brand grocery retailers are recognising the potential to achieve greater profit margins from non-food ('Non-food is not just for the major multiples', The Grocer, 26 May, p.30). However, are grocers really ready to step up to the customer service challenge this will entail? With an expanded range of higher value items comes higher customer service expectations, whether this is enabling a customer to buy goods online and pick up in-store or handling cross-channel customer returns. In reality, many grocers are still operating rudimentary, siloed IT systems that are not built to handle complex customer demands. Lack of inventory visibility, both within the business and externally across the extended supply chain, can mean grocers have no idea about product availability. The implications of this on the bottom line are clear - loss of sales and damage to customer loyalty. Research shows that online customers are hyper-sensitive to poor customer service. Just one bad shopping experience and grocers face losing out to competition. In the long run, price is not the only competitive differentiator. Grocers must rise to the challenge of providing a differentiated level of customer service on the level of specialists or face being left behind.