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One Mom's Review of Lowes Foods To Go

An honest review of her online grocery shopping experience via Lowes Foods To Go

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 is a wife , a blogger, a corporate manager, and a mom in her early thirties, and this is how she described her experience.

This Is Precisely Why There Is a Market For Veeto

Buyer's remorse is frustrating, but the worst part about that frustration is that 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?

This is true for most of the purchases we make as consumers. And I will tell you why. 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 concept of customer reviews.

Online Customer Reviews

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. 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.

There are volumes of sophisticated marketing literature that seek to explain Amazon's rise. But 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...

  1. they will receive the thing that they purchased and that it will meet their expectations,
  2. 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.

Amazon Enters Online Grocery-Shopping Space

These are two reasons, in fact, why Amazon's entry into the online grocery-shopping space has prompted progressive responses from traditional grocers like Lowes Foods. I talked to one Lowes Foods store manager to find out why, for example, Lowes Foods decided suddenly in January 2016 to heavily promote its online shopping service called Lowes Foods To Go. His answer was clear: "It's simple, really. Amazon got into the online grocery-shopping and -delivery space, and Lowes Foods is responding to the competitive threat." He went on to confirm my theory that, in Lowes Foods' view, the more of its current customers that it can lock into its online shopping feature, the less churn it will see as Amazon's offering becomes better known and more attractive.

How Lowes Foods Responded?

In January 2016, Lowes Foods began heavily promoting its online grocery-shopping service called Lowes Foods To Go, and 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 "Tiffany"--this incentive was enough to catch her interest but not, by itself, enough to get her to buy.

For her, the deciding trigger was what one of her blog's readers wrote in response to an article she had written, in which she said 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 that is a chore--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 nor simple.

The reader shared a few sentences about her experience so far with Lowes Foods To Go, which seemed to be mostly positive. The reader suggested that Tiffany give it a shot. So Tiffany did. She paid the $50 and began planning her cart for the next week.

"They Never Got My Order Completely Right"

As Tiffany tells it, Lowes Foods never got it quite right. 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. "They never got my order completely right," she said.

On four of the five trips 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. 

Several times, she was told that the delays were due to the lack of communication between the store's inventory according to the online app and the store's actual inventory. 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 would not say anything, and instead substitute the 2 pounds of beef that were on sale for 5 pounds of beef that were not on sale, 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 on baby food online but was sold cups of toddler food).

Tiffany admits that some of the error might have been hers, suggesting the logic of "a computer is only as good as its operator." As she said, "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, right?

"Lowes Foods Lost Me As a Customer"

In talking to Tiffany, 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, precisely the kind of person I described in the opening two paragraphs of this article. Yes, she sometimes gets frustrated as a consumer when products and services fail to meet the expectations that sellers set. But no, 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.

And actually, I would imagine that Tiffany 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 strict. 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, Tiffany 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 Tiffany'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? Tiffany said that her average cart price was about $110 per week. She is in her early thirties. Let's say that Tiffany forty more years left in which she will need to buy groceries every week. To keep the math round, let's multiply 40 years by 50 weeks per year by $110. Assuming Tiffany's 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 Tiffany's frustration with a $50 purchase.

With that being the case, I am almost inclined to feel worse for Lowes Foods. Because how many Tiffanys do you suppose Lowes Foods has lost?

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