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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Service like a highway with no fast lane.

Stopped in to Costco on Saturday of the holiday weekend.

In a hurry. I had a small gathering to host, and I was under orders to come home with two platters of various vegetables, meats & cheeses, or to not come home at all. (The departure call of Spartan wives, updated for 2010 suburbia)

But Costco is no place for a person in a hurry, especially on a holiday weekend. Long, winding lines of cargo ship-capacity shopping carts stacked to adequately resupply a 50’s-era bomb shelter, and there I am, standing with two items.

The self check-out line helped, but not nearly enough. At a point, I would have gladly paid to skip the line. Not double, but maybe as much as 25% more.

For large-format retailers, (such as Costco, Sam’s Club, Home Depot) I wonder why an premium express line hasn’t been created for the busiest times to help serve customers in a rush. It could definitely be done, though they would have to set some rules. For example, no more than 5 items. No cash. No coupons. No price checks. They would also have to provide assurance. “Out in 60 seconds, or your 20% up-charge turns into a 10% discount.” I would have used it, and looking around, I wouldn't have been alone.

The warehouse format retailers perhaps didn’t intend a single-item shopper, but they get them. Forced to serve customers that don’t fit well with other customers, the company can either stick to the efficiency of the basic model knowing some customers will be dissatisfied, or serve customers with different needs differently, perhaps taking the opportunity to make a premium margin on a premium service level.

No customer can be characterized as shopping solely based on speed & convenience or solely on cost. If your standard service model trades these characteristics off to best serve the regular customer, look for ways to serve them in those times they need a different kind of delivery. It’s likely they’ll gladly pay a little more, and you get to provide service to your best customers along more than one dimension.

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