The Sushi Effect - How a Supermarket Loses a Customer

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I didn't intend to change to another supermarket.

For the last 18 years my family has used the same supermarket.

It's less than half a mile from our home. It sells almost every food item that we need. We buy our petrol there, our newspapers, postage stamps, stationery, wine, CDs. We even buy our domestic gas and electricity from this store.

But one little thing has really been bothering me recently.

When I go to fill up my motorcycle with petrol, there is a sign that says I must remove my crash helmet before entering the shop to pay for my fuel. And I can understand that this is to deter any potential robbers who might use a crash helmet to conceal their identity.

This wasn't too bad in the summer. And I complied with the request. Although I noticed that the petrol stations of other supermarkets and oil companies had no similar condition.

But when the colder weather arrived, I started to wear a thermal balaclava under my crash helmet. And so now this petrol station wants me to remove my crash helmet and my balaclava. To do so means first removing my gloves. Then I take off my glasses and store them safely. Then I am able to remove my crash helmet, undo my jacket, remove my neck tube and finally take off my balaclava.

To put everything back on really means taking my jacket off otherwise I cannot get the various layers to lay flat and comfortably. And where do I store everything that I've just taken off. On the floor???

I mentioned to the cashier how inconvenient this was for me. She seemed to be very understanding but explained that this was company policy.

I then suggested that they might like to ask motorcyclist to use the payment hatch to her side. The one that would allow motorcyclists to pay from outside the shop without even having to enter. “That's a good idea, " she told me. But I could tell that it wasn't going to go any further.

I also asked her how many fewer robberies they now had as a result of this policy. “It hasn't changed, " she said. “We've never had any robberies. "

And so I tried phoning the store manager to ask for his help. I even explained that both my brother and my mother work at another branch of this company. And I really don't want to buy my petrol anywhere else. I explained the idea of using the external hatch so that motorcyclists don't even have to enter the shop. But, despite his assurance that he doesn't want me to shop elsewhere, nothing has changed.

Now maybe I'm getting a bit old and grumpy. But this situation irritated me. And I wondered about how other customers might cope. What would a nun have to do? Or a lady wearing a hijab? Or maybe even a man wearing a turban? Are we all potential villains?

A couple of weeks went by and, just by chance, we had to buy our shopping from a different supermarket. We went to Marks & Spencer. Although it was a little harder to locate all the things we needed in a strange store, we quite enjoyed the adventure. And then I spotted that Marks & Spencer sells sushi. And I've been a sushi addict for some time but our normal supermarket doesn't sell it.

So guess what has happened? We now visit Marks & Spencer on a regular basis. And I notice that my wife is coming home with food from several other stores too. Maybe we've not switched allegiance to any one particular store. But we've certainly switched away from the one that we spent approximately £10,000 with every year. Over 18 years, that's a lot of money.

What can we learn from this story?

I suggest that you let your team think about this situation and how it could have been handled differently. Let them come up with the ideas and suggestions. That way they will feel more involved and any ideas that could be applied to your business will be their ideas.

The sort of things that I'm thinking of include listening to customers, understanding lifetime value, following up a customer complaint/suggestion, making it easy for customers to buy from you.

Derek Williams is creator of The WOW! Awards™ and Chief Executive for the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Europe.

For more information about Derek Williams visit For The WOW! Awards (including access to a FREE customer service newsletter) visit


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