In case you missed it, last week Northern quality supermarket chain Booths announced that it’s removing self-scan tills at its stores (except the two busiest “to meet the needs of our customers during very busy periods.”) because “We have based this not only on what we feel is the right thing to do but also having received feedback from our customers.”
The reaction from Public Relations professionals I know was ecstatic.
It’s Great PR because:
- It was acting on stakeholder feedback to improve service (the key to Grunig & Hunt’s two-way symmetric communication1– Asking key publics what they want, Listening then Changing to deliver what they want
- It’s improving the relationship with customers (one of the main definitions of Public Relations – managing key relationships) on a daily basis – taking buying groceries using the self-service till from a purely functional experience where you feel you’re working for the store for free and being treated like a potential criminal (photo being taken as you scan).
Booths is returning the relationship to a series of interactions with humans you get to know and build rapport and a real relationship with.
Emotionally this is poles apart from the increasingly miserable experience in other supermarkets and will help people whose lives are socially isolated.
I have to say the till staff at our local Aldi and Tesco are good, too. One of the smart things Aldi and Lidl have done is keeping staffed tills, partly to retain the social experience and make that an emotional benefit of going there. They also may fear not all customers would scan all items.
- Being the first supermarket to turn back on the trend to follow ‘Neutron Jack’ Welch (whose staff cuts at General Electric were likened to a neutron bomb – leaving the buildings standing but empty of people) in cutting staff when possible, was, as Joshua said, against the trend of reducing the human interactions in stores – so was naturally going to get the attention of news editors – two of the definitions of newsworthy stories Tony Harcup and Deirdre O’Neill came up with were Surprise – stories that have an element of surprise or contrast – and Good news.
- In doing this Booths is living one of its stated Values – “to sell the best goods available, in attractive stores, with excellent assistants.”. How many others can truly say that?
- Booths is grabbing thought and service leadership in its market segment – they will now have always led the ‘return to humans on tills’ even if Waitrose does the some in stores which compete with it, or elsewhere.
It’s Great Marketing because:
The simple definition of Marketing is ‘Find out what people want and give it to them at a profit’.
That starts with asking and listening before delivering what was asked for. Exactly what Booths has done.
This gives them clear differentiation from rivals reducing staff and a more social experience which is more relevant and requested by their better-off, many older, customer base.
It’s Great Strategy because:
- Booths has always been a premium shop. Cost reduction and faster throughput at tills may have led them to introduce self-scan, but they’ve now taken a more strategic review of the checkout experience and seen they have the opportunity to take service, social and moral leadership (as well as clear differentiation to premium rivals) by giving customers what they want for a marginal extra cost – given they have so few stores compared to the big chains.
Differentiation is the strongest of The 3 Basic Strategies (the other two are Cost Focus and Niche) because it’s a better source of competitive advantage through being harder and takes longer to break down.
- This demonstrates they understand and value intangible assets (e.g. how we feel about being in a store) more than rivals because they’re often linked to stakeholder emotions (do I feel better or worse after doing each shop) and opinions which guide actions (Where will I shop today?) and can therefore be the source of competitive advantage at (perhaps) lower cost than simply cutting prices.
If you have the reputation (deserved or not) for optimising for customer happiness, that advantage is sustainable until a rival takes that crown by doing it better and more consistently.
Whoever is perceived to win ‘Best Christmas TV ad’ this year, for me Booths for me has won Best PR and Marketing, not just for Christmas, but beyond – because its action is more than a one-off stunt or campaign, it’s a change to service customers will benefit from daily. And meeting their needs better every day is at the heart of a great customer relationship (PR), builds your reputation (PR) and service (Marketing).
1 = Grunig, J.E. and Hunt, T., 1984, Managing Public Relations, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
2 = Harcup, A. & O’Neill, D. What Is News? Galtung and Ruge revisited at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14616700118449