This article is based on an interview with a former Lowes Foods customer who tried Lowes Foods To Go, was terribly disappointed, and in response to that disappointment, is actually no longer a Lowes Foods customer at all (she switched to Publix, and now gets her groceries delivered directly to her doorstep by Instacart). She is a wife, blogger, corporate manager, and mom in her thirties, and this is how she described her experience.
In January 2016, Lowes Foods began heavily promoting its online grocery-shopping service called Lowes Foods To Go.
To sweeten the incentive for people who were considering giving online grocery-shopping a try, Lowes Foods discounted its Lowes Foods To Go annual fee from $100 per year to $50 per year. For the former Lowes Foods customer that I interviewed--whom we will call "Christy"--this incentive was enough to catch her interest but not, by itself, enough to get her to buy.
For her, the deciding factor was someone's comment on a blog article she had written.
The gist of that article was that she was considering switching to online grocery-shopping to save time and money. The article also talked about her difficulty learning to shop for groceries with an active and unpredictable infant. As any parent knows, it is not just the activity that is more difficult, but it is also the getting there:
- the car-seat
- stocking the diaper bag
- checking to make sure you bring emergency snacks and spare bottles of milk
Once you become a parent, getting in and out of anywhere quickly and simply is no longer quick or simple.
The commenter shared a few sentences about her experience so far with Lowes Foods To Go, which seemed to be mostly positive. The reader suggested that Christy give it a shot.
So she did. She paid the $50 and began planning her cart for the next week.
The first three times she used the service, Lowes Foods never got it quite right.
But having paid her $50 fee for the year, she committed to giving Lowes Foods To Go an honest try.
For the next five weeks, she would assemble her cart online, wait for Lowes Foods to call and email her with her scheduled pick-up time, and load up her little one to drive to pick up her groceries. Her expectations were not unreasonable: she simply expected that her groceries would be ready to purchase and load at the time that Lowes Foods specified they would be.
But Lowes Foods failed to meet that expectation, even though it was totally up to them to decide what that pickup time would be. They would call here, say that the groceries would be ready for pickup at a particular time, and then fail to have them ready at that time.
"They never got my order completely right, and the pick-up time was 15-30 minutes off each trip."
She used the Lowes Foods To Go service a little more than once per week over five weeks.
On 6 of the 8 trips she made, using the service, to pick-up her order, she had to wait more than fifteen minutes longer than the specified pick-up time before they had the order ready to checkout. In two cases, it actually took them between 20 and 30 minutes.
By comparison, her typical grocery trip before she tried online-shopping would take about 30 minutes. So she was frustrated that did not seem to be reaping any sort of time-saving benefit, not to mention the difference between what Lowes Foods told her to expect and what actually happened.
What was the cause of the problem?
Several times, a Lowes Food customer service employee told her that the delays were due to the lack of communication between the online app and the store's actual inventory.
Specifically, the customer service employee told her that the store's inventory according to the online app was consistently wrong. For example, the online app would advertise that 2 pounds of beef were not only available, but also on sale. She would put that item in her cart, and only after Lowes Foods called and emailed her to say that her order was ready, when she arrived at the store, they would tell her that the did not actually have that item; or, as happened on two occasions, the store did not say anything, and instead substituted the 2 pounds of beef that were on sale for 5 pounds of beef that were not on sale.
...thereby revealing the misaligned incentives inherent to letting an employee of a store decide whether to sell you a more or less expensive item.
As the store demonstrated several times, the substituted items were always more expensive and arguably not even comparable (in another instance, she selected pouches of baby food online but was sold cups of toddler food).
She admits that some of the error might have been hers, due to the clunky design of the Lowes Foods To Go app.
"Online grocery-shopping is hard when you only have a half-inch image to look at. Many people, I think--myself included--shop visually, and it is sometimes hard to know what you are looking at online."
As an example, she cited one error she made by selecting egg-enriched noodles when she really meant to select egg noodles. What an amateur, am-I-right?
But that would only pertain to items that were placed in her cart accidentally, which has nothing to do with the 15- to 30-minute delays at pickup time or unilateral substitutes that were both mire expensive and incomparable to the item she selected.
The experience was so bad that she stopped shopping at Lowes Foods altogether.
This partly had to do with the experience itself, and partly to do with the feeling that Lowes Foods had charged her upfront for a year's "membership" to a service which Lowes Foods was never prepared to actually deliver. In other words, it felt like false advertising.
"Lowes Foods lost me as a customer."
In talking to Christy, I did not get the impression that she was one of these exceptionally unreasonable consumers (like this angry guy, who, as of 2013, had written 276 negative Amazon reviews). Quite the opposite, she struck me as notably normal.
I asked her about this, too. Basically, I asked, "are you normal?" She admitted that she sometimes gets frustrated as a consumer when products and services fail to meet the expectations that sellers set. But she said that she is not the type of "vigilante" that tends to do anything about it. Instead, she, like many of us, just bites her tongue and quietly takes her business to elsewhere--in this case, to a Lowes Foods competitor (she started buying groceries from Publix and ordering them to be delivered to her doorstep by Instacart).
And actually, I would say that she is slightly more accommodating than the average person.
When I asked her what her expectations were when she signed up for Lowes Foods To Go, she did not seem so particular. Although some people, myself included, might expect that when Lowes Foods calls to say that your order will be ready at a certain time, that your order will in fact be ready at that time, Christy was more flexible: "I was thinking that it might take 5 to 10 minutes after arrival before she would be able to pay and load up," which, to me, further highlights how far off Lowed Foods was during these five weeks from actually getting it right.
"I decided not to shop there anymore, because they pissed me off so bad."
The consequence, notice, is greater than just Christy's unresolved frustration, or her feeling that she wasted $50. In aggregate, actually, the consequence is much greater for Lowes Foods.
How much revenue do you think Lowes Foods has lost as result of alienating this one customer? Christy said that her average cart price was about $110 per week. She is in her early thirties. Let's say that she has forty more years left to buy groceries every week. To keep the math round, let's multiply 40 years by 50 weeks per year by $110. Assuming her family does not grow in number, or in appetite, and that this math stays stable for the next forty years, we can see that Lowes Foods has lost $220K in lifetime revenue over Christy's frustration with a $50 purchase.
With that being the case, I am almost inclined to feel worse for Lowes Foods. Because how many Christys do you suppose Lowes Foods has lost due to crummy Lowes Foods To Go execution?
Did Lowes Foods launch its Lowes Foods To Go service too early, before all of the kinks were worked out?
After I interviewed Christy and found out how bad her Lowes Food To Go experience was, I talked to one Lowes Foods store manager to find out why. I asked him, for example, why Lowes Foods decided suddenly in January 2016 to heavily promote its "Lowes Food To Go" online shopping service, even before all of the customer service kinks were smoothed out. His answer was clear:
"It's simple, really. Amazon got into the online grocery-shopping and grocery-delivery space, and Lowes Foods is responding to the competitive threat."
He went on to say that, in Lowes Foods' view, the more of its current customers that it could lock into its online shopping service--in year-long, paid-upfront memberships--the less churn it would see as Amazon's offering became better known and more attractive.
Wow, that was a strangely honest set of answers. But it was exactly what I imagined explained Christy's experience. Lowes Foods wanted her to incur the "sunk cost" as soon as possible, and they were less worried about what her experience would be thereafter.
...because they knew that people tend to aver walking away from sunk costs.
Christy paid for a service that Lowes Foods failed to render.
This is precisely why there is a market for Veeto: buyer's remorse is frustrating, and it is seldom solved. Early in our independent, adult lives, it does not take long for us to accept this, either. Once accepted, we stick to this pattern of getting mad, biting our tongue, and then forgetting about it despite never reaching any sort of satisfactory resolution--because what could we possibly do about it, anyway?
Or..perhaps more often...is it really worth my time anyway, given that it's only $50?
Buyer's remorse is boring to talk about.
No one wants to hear us complain about the problems we had with that gadget we bought last week or how it failed to meet the expectations that the gadget's sales copy set. The only exception to this, it seems, is the online customer reviews, because people read those, sometimes even with pleasure. Sometimes it's a review on the product's page, or sometimes it might be a long-form review like this article.
Whereas I might not wish to bore my friends with my rant during dinner one night, I probably have less reservation about venting my frustrations in the form of an online review of the product or service that I purchased.
Take Amazon, for example.
It started with books only, but now Amazon has expanded to just about every conceivable, legal market (so no dime bags or human body parts...yet). Want a wrench? Amazon. Want a bench? Amazon. Want a kidney? Not Amazon yet.
But now, even if you want to shop for groceries, Amazon will deliver your week's worth of food within hours of your online checkout. That's what prompted Lowes Foods to launch its Lowes Foods To Go service too soon.
Much has been written to explain Amazon's rise.
I have my own theory that I can sum up in a single word: resolution. Customers who buy things on Amazon--even things from sellers other than Amazon itself--trust that either...
- they will receive the thing that they purchased and that it will meet their expectations,
- or it will not meet their expectations and they can simply report this in a few sentences by leaving a customer review at the bottom of the item's sales page--and that this negative review will prompt an appropriate resolution from the seller.
Either way, because of the market share Amazon brings to so many manufacturers and retailers, that online review is sometimes enough to resolve the buyer's remorse--even if the seller does not have any sort of explicit satisfaction guarantee. The reason for this is that sellers know that a negative review on Amazon will likely cost them far more in future sales than it would to right the wrong of the past sale they already made to you.
If only Lowes Foods understood this, too...
Two final things...
Two - if you bought something the seller failed to deliver, then you don't need me to tell you that you should get your money back...you already know this, and Veeto can help. But if you don't want to do the work yourself, then no problem: click the button below to book a micro-consultation to discuss your case.