What makes a grocer so successful? Our take.

I love HEB. When I have the chance to shop there I always do - they're a savvy grocery that makes the customer the center of their overall strategy. There are a number of factors that make a consumer have an affinity for a particular chain.

As I was grocery shopping this past weekend I was thinking "What is it that makes some grocery stores more enjoyable than others?" Here's a Buxton take on it:

• Customer-centric: The top retailers understand who shops at their store and let customer wants and needs drive merchandising, promotions, store formats, etc. This deep level of customer knowledge doesn’t stop at the chain-level. Top performers truly understand each micro-market and what drives them, down to the household level. Having to cater to a range of shopper motivations, from convenience and value to quality, good retailers allow their customer-centric approach to drive the ideal store format, selection, promotions, merchandising, etc.

• Data-focused: As we say at Buxton, data validation is the new gut check. Food retailers in general have become so much more savvy about leveraging the data that is available to them from areas such as point-of-sales, loyalty programs and online engagement. Top retailers use data to become better operationally and to improve customer service. In both cases, being data-focused helps them to become better than they were before and to be better than their competition.

• Operationally-sound: Maximizing efficiency from front-end operations to inventory is a must in today’s environment and a real differentiator for top-performing chains. For example, opening hours, the availability of prepared foods, and especially out-of-stocks can greatly affect shopper satisfaction.

• Employee-friendly: Many of the top operators can be found on the nation’s best-places-to-work lists. Happy employees typically result in customer service excellence.

• Marketing-savvy: Top operators make it a point to know to their customers through social and mobile media, customer research, feedback programs, etc. For them, marketing is a science, with a heavy emphasis on data and research.

• Locally-driven: As we wrote in “The Local Trump Card” blog, understanding local needs is critical. Whether this is carrying locally-sourced products or serving the needs of a certain population or ethnic group, successful retailers know their local markets inside-out.

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