Company News

Opinion: It’s All About the Experience

How are you creating your next generation of fans?

CHICAGO -- Former New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan believed in punishing his opponents. Run hard, run fast, run often. Akin to military tactics meant to overwhelm the enemy with a crushing ground attack, Ryan’s strategy was called “ground and pound.” The plan banked on wearing down the opposition so that by the fourth quarter, the Jets could take control of the clock and of the game. The strategy worked—for a while, that is.

The game changed, and while running the ball remains an important component, it now works most effectively within the confines of a strong passing attack, much like our military’s method of deploying an aerial onslaught before sending in the troops.

For more than a dozen years, we at CSP have partnered with Intouch Insight (previously called Service Intelligence) to conduct a mystery shop. Each year, we looked at the ground and pound, rating execution of the basics: Are bathrooms clean? Is the coffee bar wiped down often? Are trash receptacles emptied regularly?

Last fall, I met with nearly 20 retail executives, asking them to critique our mystery shop. “The blocking and tackling is still important,” one leading executive said. “But it’s not enough. We need to measure customer experience.” He was right.

So, for our 14th mystery shop, we’ve expanded our focus, as you’ll find in this issue and additional coverage in our CSP Daily News. We asked customers if they found store employees friendly, wait times reasonable and designs appealing, and if they felt valued.

Our 10 chains represent a fascinating cross-section of portfolio size, business models (franchises, private equity, family-run, big oil, fuel marketers), demographics and retail longevity.

With in-store c-store traffic flat or down … honest reflection says we must blame ourselves.

When you narrow it down, all the questions are essential details, the adjectives that qualify a retail narrative. But the question that stands out as our Academy Award for Best Picture is: Would you recommend this store to others?

Customers were asked to respond on a scale of one to five, with five being the best. Nine of the 10 chains scored 60% to 80% on this question. Only one chain did better: QuikTrip scored an impressive 95.1%—an A on any report card.

That QT, for the first time in our mystery-shop history, did not finish in the top three (it finished fourth) may be less important than the fact that their customers love QT, are passionate about the stores and would cheerily recommend them to their friends.

That’s true fandom. And that’s our industry challenge.

With in-store c-store traffic flat or down, it’s simplistic to blame Amazon. Honest reflection says we must blame ourselves. A 2017 report by Bain & Co. and Farfetch, an e-commerce platform that works with brick-and- mortar businesses, suggests consumers have a “millennial state of mind.” This means they want brands that share their values, make products readily available and deliver an experience.

The report says physical stores will continue to capture 75% of all transactions, so don’t freak out about a digital Godzilla gobbling up all storefronts. And even the best in the digital space (e.g., Amazon) see value in having a store where customers can touch, feel, smell and taste products.

Apple is perhaps the best small-box retailer in the country. Do you ever see a screen in that store sitting untouched? Or a customer rep standing idly by? Apple stores take in more than $5,000 in sales per square foot and more than 1 million visitors per day worldwide, according to a 2017 Bloomberg report.

Customers sample products without feeling watched by Big Brother and tap the Genius Bar for guidance. Other technology companies, including Microsoft and Samsung, are following suit, exploring new hands-on retail approaches.

Nontechnology entities, including libraries, big-box operators and cutting-edge grocers, are changing their models, increasing customer interaction, making sales folks personal shoppers and fulfilling online orders.
The question is: How are you making your store more experiential? How are you creating your next generation of fans?

Mitch Morrison is vice president of retailer relations at Winsight, Chicago. Reach him at

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