Sainsbury’s has won acclaim for trialling a “relaxed checkout” lane in its Prestwick, Scotland branch, specifically targeted at customers who are suffering from dementia and may need more time to finalise their purchases.
As well as including a hearing loop, the lane is staffed with employees who have received special training on how to look after dementia sufferers and the elderly. The branch is conducting the trial in partnership with Alzheimer’s Scotland.
Speaking to The Independent,  a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “Our aim is to be the most inclusive retailer and we want all of our customers to have a great shopping experience in our stores. There are many aspects of a visit to the supermarket which can be stressful for those with dementia, so by trialling a slow shopping option we hope we can make their lives easier.”
Another retail brand that is putting significant effort into its customer base is Majestic Wine, which has unveiled a strategy to invest more in customer relationships than it does in stores. Indeed, it is aiming to double its investment in customer acquisition from £14 million per year to £28m.
Speaking to online journal Internet Retailing about its annual report,  chief executive Rowan Gormley said: “Rather than investing in bricks and mortar we are investing in acquiring new customers. We believe – and have good evidence to support – that this is a better strategy because investing in your customer makes you value them more and treat them better. This improves loyalty, which builds a better business.”
In the annual report itself,  Majestic notes that in order to sharpen its customer focus, it is i) eliminating unproductive activity so staff are freed up to attend to customers’ needs, ii) refitting stores to make them easier to understand and iii) using Big Data to build a clearer picture of what customers want. The firm also points out that, going forward, it has 1,000 staff in place with the capability to train colleagues to sell wines.
How can firms who are making such large investments in their customer relationships ensure that the funding – and the strategic thinking behind it – is targeted in the most effective ways?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The Sainsbury’s initiative is a solid example of how the chain is acknowledging and grasping shifts in the demographics of its customer base. Not everyone is comfortable with shopping online. Not everyone is comfortable with a fast – yet curt and impersonal – experience at the checkout.
Cooper points out: “as a result of those demographic shifts, retail brands must meet an ever-increasing requirement to cater to customers with an array of different, neurodiverse needs. Firms that learn to appreciate those changes in their demographics will get better at customer-sensitivity all the time.”
In the case of Majestic, Cooper notes: “they seem to have learned from their analysis that customers don’t just want to buy wine – they want to know about it. And they want to speak to people who already know about wine, and are in a position to pass on that knowledge. So this is about taking a bit more time with customers, responding to them and having conversations that aren’t strictly sales pitches, but revolve around a shared enthusiasm for wine.”
She adds: “Evidently, the brand has put a lot of effort into upskilling its employees, and ensuring that they’re actually wine experts – not simply sales staff.”
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Image of supermarket checkout courtesy of photocritical, via Shutterstock