The Power of the Preposition in Cultivating Customer Loyalty

A Letter from the President and CEO

Leslie G. Sarasin
"Consumer thinking appears to be shifting from a mind-set of buying food FROM a retailer and moving into the attitude of buying food WITH a retailer."

Nouns and verbs often capture our attention, but as parts of speech go, we usually do not give much consideration to prepositions. But prepositions can make all the difference in the world, as a friend of mine discovered in a very painful way. As a youngster just beginning to read, he had learned how to recognize his name, but had not mastered distinguishing between the various prepositions. On Christmas morning that year, he rose early, bounded into the living room, made a bee-line for the Christmas tree, began locating all the gifts bearing his name and alone, started the swirling blizzard of shredded wrapping paper. What he didn't know was that his mother had decided it would be ironically funny to have all of the family gifts that year come from him – the youngest member of the family. He found the disproportionate number and nature of the gifts somewhat odd, but it never registered with him to stop and ask why. He just kept opening the presents with his name on them – not only those marked TO him, but also those coming FROM him. He is grown now, but there are family members who still have not forgiven him for ruining their Christmas that year, all because he failed to heed the power of the preposition.

I would propose that there is a prepositional revolution taking place regarding consumer attitudes about the food- shopping experience and like my friend, food retailers best be paying careful attention to their prepositions. Consumer thinking appears to be shifting from a mind-set of buying food FROM a retailer and moving into the attitude of buying food WITH a retailer. This attitude is surfacing in several key retail areas.

Issues of food safety loom larger in the consciousness of the American public than ever before. Consumers still identify themselves as bearing the primary responsibility for ensuring the food they purchase is safe, up from 55% in 2009 to 63% last year. But, what's significant to note is that the level of food safety responsibility that consumers assign to food stores has risen from 25% five years ago to 42% in 2014. Clearly consumers are identifying this as a collaborative effort between customer and retailer. Neither bears sole responsibility, but both must work together in this effort. It is a WITH proposition, not FOR.

There is another area where the consumer – retailer relationship is shifting into a more collaborative frame of reference. Consumers are increasingly applying a "shared value" criteria when making their store and product choices. Does the company that makes or sells this item believe in the same things I believe in? Was it produced in a way that I agree with and support? Again, customers are asking the question, is my retailer aligned WITH me? More than just a purveyor of foods, retailers are now being identified as collaborators in upholding the food values of the consumer.

Finally, in the area of health and wellness, when asked to name those they consider "on their side" and those they think are "working against them" in terms of wellness, consumers ranked their "primary store" among their most trusted health advocates. Identifying their supermarket as a health and wellness destination is another way of recognizing their retailer as more than someone from whom they buy.

At FMI Midwinter, our educational focus will be on the diverse ways consumer empowerment is reshaping the role of the retailer. In other words, we will be zeroing in on the consumers dramatic shift in prepositional thinking. I hope you are part of the group exploring the many ways we are now working with the consumer.