Weis Markets Lost My Business Today

I’m in the midst of taking a business design course. The first few courses were a bit rough, but it seems like we’re hitting our stride as a class, and I’m really starting to enjoy the material and the discussion. One of the side effects of going through this process, however, has been that I look at other businesses in a different way now. For example, today I went to Home Depot and Weis Market. Both experiences were frustrating; Home Depot, however, had several bright spots that really helped smooth the rough edges. My experience at Weis, though, was just painful. The prices were comparatively high and I had trouble finding things, but the real kick in the pants was an experience at checkout that left me shaking my head as I drove away. I was left so flabbergasted that I decided to send in feedback:

I just want to let you know about an experience I had at a local Weis Market today. I went to buy a few things for the middle school course I’m substitute teaching this year, and while I was there I found a few personal items that piqued my interest, especially at the sales price advertised below the items. I searched the advertisement for any mention of a limitation on the sale (such as needing to use a special card or the sale being expired) but saw none. At checkout, the price total was about 25% higher than I had expected. I asked about the discounts I had seen but not received. The cashier’s reaction was confrontational, immediately demanding that I show her the deals in the paper advertisement. I started to point out that I hadn’t seen them in the paper and that instead I’d seen them as I’d been walking about; she interrupted me, insisting that I search the ad for the deals. Another woman nearby, evidently a supervisor by her demeanor, asked if I had presented a Weis card, which I had not. Both she and the cashier confirmed that a Weis card was required for the deals I’d seen. I was with my 3-year-old and 1-year-old daughter at the time, both of whom were late for naps and really tired. I didn’t want to get into an argument about all of this, nor did I want to spend the time obtaining a Weis card right then. Two gentlemen behind me were kind enough to allow me the use of their card. The cashier’s response to this was snarky, pointing out that the gentlemen would get all the benefits from my purchase instead of me. Once she got the new total she amended her statement because evidently I hadn’t spent enough money. Both she and the supervisor admitted that they themselves didn’t understand all the complexities of when the card would benefit customers.

From this visit I gained (or had reinforced) several impressions/lessons:
1. Weis is not really focused on a positive experience for customers. I suspect, based upon the uneven interactions I had both today and during previous visits to other stores, that this is a problem with the company culture and an emphasis on a dollars and cents bottom line.
2. I cannot trust Weis’ advertisements and the printed price. There may be limitations that are not clearly stated that will come back to bite me in the butt unless I’m willing to jump through a bunch of hoops while dealing with two cranky children.
3. My $47 purchase isn’t considered valuable to Weis; I shouldn’t come back until I’m willing to spend $50 or over.
4. Even if I wanted to shop at Weis despite the issues presented above, I shouldn’t get the Weis card, because it is so complicated that not even Weis employees really understand how it works.

This interaction clearly communicated to me that my family (2 adults, 2 young children, middle-income earning, college educated homeowners) isn’t Weis’ target audience. Thank you for that communication; I will make sure that I pass this message along to other families like mine in the area.

Have a great day!

What I find really amazing about this is that in our last class we spent a lot of time talking about relationships, and why they’re important. Encourage a customer to get to know you, so that you can encourage that customer to like you, so that you can encourage that customer to trust you. That’s what builds loyalty and a willingness to buy. When it was presented, most of the students in the course (myself included) said “Duh!” or something similar. It seems so obvious, once stated. And yet, Weis Markets seems not to know this. I can assure you that today’s experience did not encourage me to like them, which means I’m quite unlikely to give them another chance. (I should say that this isn’t the first time I’ve had a non-positive experience at Weis, although this is by far the worst one I have had.)

So what companies, especially grocery stores, understand this? Publix Supermarkets is the one that comes to mind. I *LOVE* Publix. While their prices are competitive (and sometimes not even), they do things that are extremely customer friendly:
1. The employees smile — and not just when someone smiles at them. What an amazing difference that makes! I think that part of this stems from regional differences — the people here in Pennsylvania just seem overall more dour than the people in Georgia — but I think it’s more due to a company culture that emphasizes the value of the customer (and employee) experience.
2. The employees go out of their way to be helpful. I can’t tell you how many times back in Atlanta when I would ask someone in the store for some favor — slicing and repackaging a chunk of meat, or checking the stock room for something that had sold out on the floor — and they’d gladly (even cheerfully) do it. I don’t know if they pay their employees really well or simply drug the water supply (JOKE), but it’s an awesome feeling to go into the store knowing that they’ve got my back.
3. They have no cards/subscriptions/etc to get their deals. (At least, they didn’t when I was there. Things may have since changed.) This is a small one, but extremely nice. When I see a price on something, I know I automatically qualify for that price. No hoops, no surprises, no gotchas.

Before I moved to Atlanta I shopped pretty exclusively at Kroger’s. After a couple of months, however, I didn’t set foot in Kroger’s unless I had no choice. The experience of shopping at Publix was so much better than that of shopping at Kroger’s that my habits changed. In fact, it got to the point where I would drive past a Kroger’s if I even suspected that a Publix was nearby. I’d rather wait to go to the store I liked and trusted than go to the most convenient.

Here in Pennsylvania there is unfortunately no Publix (or even a regional equivalent). I have to choose between Weis and Giant. Thanks to my horrible experience today, that choice just became much easier.

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