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How Are We Doing?

Results of the 2019 Annual Customer Survey & Customer Experience Surveys

By Brendon Smith, Communications Director

Each year we offer a survey asking Co-op customers to let us know how we are doing with some “big picture” Co-op aspects—how well we’re working toward our Global Ends policy, how our prices rate, and other areas. In May we published this year’s survey in the newsletter, posted it on our website, and offered it in the store. Over 2,700 customers filled out the survey (thank you if you were one of them!), and I’ll summarize the responses here.

SUMMARY OF SURVEY RESPONSES

We talk a lot about the high quality of our products, and we hear praise about it each year in the survey, but we know it’s not a fixed term—for some “quality” primarily refers to freshness, for some to the artisanal methods used to make products, for others to nutritional value. We asked you “What does the term “quality” mean to you?” and allowed for up to three options. Here is what you told us, with the larger words being more frequently used.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Co-op’s Global Ends policy (c’mon, you all know it by heart, right?), it reads:

Willy Street Grocery Co-op will be at the forefront of a cooperative and just society that:

has a robust local economy built around equitable relationships;

nourishes and enriches our community and environment; and

has a culture of respect, generosity, and authenticity.

Each year, the Board of Directors asks the General Manager to report on how Co-op management and staff have pursued these Ends. She asks management to help compile a list of activities that support one or more of these Ends, and it is quite a long list! But that doesn’t indicate how well customers (and especially Co-op Owners) think we’re doing in our pursuit of these Ends. So, for the second year, we asked you to rate our effectiveness at living up to each of these qualities, using a 0-10 rating, with 0 is none and 10 is complete. Our average rating for each of the qualities was between 8.42 (“Equitable”) and 8.92 (“Nourishing and enriching our community”). This year survey respondents rated us overall ever-so-slightly less successful at living up to the Global Ends policy compared to last year, but still high overall. Board President Jeannine Bindl says, “Customers' rating of how we are achieving our Ends continues to be strong. The Ends are an exceptionally important aspect of our cooperative's business; as such, the Board will continue to monitor how the General Manager and her staff are pursuing them.”

This year we also asked two qualitative questions: “If you could change just one thing about your Co-op, what would it be?” and “What else would you like us to know?” I read through each one of the comments, wrote up a summary and asked a few key people to respond to the areas that came up most frequently: prices, parking, opening another store or expanding a store, “nothing,” increasing/changing/improving prepared foods (especially the hot bar), and reducing packaging and/or increasing bulk options. Respondents also shared much love for the Co-op and for staff—we appreciate it! 

PRICES

By far we received the most comments about prices, ranging from “Lower prices, but I do feel like the prices are already fair for the quality” to “THE PRICES!!! ...I love going to the Co-op but it is not affordable.” Over the last three years we have asked respondents to rate our prices on a scale from 0 (extremely unaffordable) to 10 (extremely affordable). Since 2017, customers have found our prices to have improved a bit each year. Of course, it will always be something that we work to improve even more.

customer survey prices 2017 2019

Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director, had this to say about the feedback we received about pricing: “When we have compared our product pricing against like products in similar-sized retails (for example local vs. local or organic name brand vs. organic name brand), we have always found that on average our pricing is in line (or better!) with our competitors. That said, it is absolutely true that many of the high-quality, organic, and local products that we carry tend to be more expensive that other available options, and can be less affordable for customers on a budget.

“We have several ways that we try and counteract this and make our products more affordable. One is our Co-op Basics program, where we offer great pricing with reduced profit margins on staple items throughout the store. In the Produce departments, we change our Basics seasonally—if there are staple items that you would like to see included in this program I'd love to hear what they are!

“As an example of how our pricing on Co+op Basics items work, we can take Tipi 5lb carrots as an example. This is a very popular local organic product that we offer every year in our Produce departments. Steve Pincus, of Tipi Produce, is an experienced farmer who pays his farm hands a living wage and uses lots of hand labor on his farm instead of mechanized labor like larger California farms. This extra care definitely comes through in the exceptional flavor of his carrots, but it also means a higher cost to us. We pay $5.20/ bag for Tipi Carrots, compared to $4.30/bag for organic carrots from California. We charge $7.99/bag for Tipi Carrots on Co+op Basics, which though more that what you would pay for organic California carrots, gives us just enough profit to pay for our staff's wages and benefits as well as other expenses.” 

“We also offer lots of really good Owner Rewards and Co+op Deals sales on seasonal and popular items. These promotions are generally as good or better than any deal our competitors are offering, so be sure to check them out!

PARKING

When we opened Willy West in 2010, we looked out over the huge parking lot and said, “Well, we’ll never have the parking problems we have at East!” If you’ve shopped at Willy West, particularly at rush hour or on the weekends, you know that we were quite wrong about that prediction. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do to add parking at Willy East, and we currently have no options to add parking at Willy West. But there is another way we may be able to free up some space in the parking lot in the future: we hope to add these stores as pick-up locations when you order at shop.willystreet.coop. We don’t have a timeline for this, but we’ll let you know when we do!

ANOTHER STORE, OR A BIGGER ONE

As Anya reported in the August newsletter, we aren’t currently pursuing a fourth store, and we’re not planning to expand retail floor space in any of our three stores. After we pay off a significant chunk of the Owner Bonds we sold to help finance opening Willy North and the expansion of Willy West, that may be an option, although that’s at least a few years away at this time.

“NOTHING”

Over 100 respondents wrote that they would change “nothing” about the Co-op. Wow!

CHANGES TO PREPARED FOODS

Out of the 171 comments that respondents wrote in regarding our prepared foods and baked goods, 80 of them mentioned our Hot Bar (or Salad Bar, or both). Many were positive, but many echo our own sentiments about these fixtures of our Delis: “Better hot food options on the hot food bar...like roasted veggies, things without a ton of sauce, etc…”, “Can we get some variety?”, and even “I’d make your hot bar fresher and more attractive looking. It often looks dried out and unappetizing.” Patrick Schroeder, the Prepared Foods Category Manager, had this to say about the Hot Bar, “We first started selling out of a buffet-style hot bar in 2010. It’s grown from being less than 15% of our Deli’s sales to over 45%. Half of the products we make at our Production Kitchen are for the Hot Bar—to the tune of more than 15,000 pounds per month! We have a lot of internal motivation to make improvements to it, but its volume makes it challenging to implement changes well and quickly.” 

To tackle that problem, Patrick, our Kitchen Director Jamie Acocks, and other key staff have been working on a deep-dive audit of our hot bar operation. The goal of this audit is to overhaul the norms and practices that they and staff have adopted (consciously and unconsciously) to deal with the rapid growth of the program and replace them with procedures that can be responsibly implemented and more consistently executed. This audit is ongoing since midsummer and will likely finish next summer. Some of the recommendations that Patrick and team would like to implement through this overhaul are:

Thematic menus for the hot bar 

Broadcasting of the hot bar menus further in advance online and in-store

More vegetables and components that can be combined into meals and less emphasis on fully-composed dishes

Consistent, seasonal rotation of menu items

REDUCING PACKAGING, INCREASING BULK OPTIONS 

Dean Kallas, the Grocery Category Manager, is reviewing our Bulk aisle offerings and we may be adding some new products in 2020. Angie Pohlman, the General Merchandise Category Manager, has been adding some bodycare items with sustainable packaging like HiBar solid shampoos and conditioners. (See her article on page 9.) We also sold some strawberries in 100% recyclable cardboard containers and blueberries in nearly plastic-free cartons. Demand currently tends to outstrip supply for these products, so you may see something one week and not the next, but this is important to us and to many of you, so you can expect to see more and more lightly packaged and bulk products at your Co-op.

The original purpose of this survey—which we’ve offered almost every year for at least two decades—was to get feedback from customers on a range of aspects of the Co-op, from the cleanliness of the stores to quality of products to overall direction of the business. Now that we have CX surveys that ask about daily experience in the store, we can use the annual survey to focus on the big questions. Next year, the Board of Directors will take over ownership of the annual survey, and will use it to collect feedback on their governance of the Co-op. 

WHAT ARE THESE CX SURVEYS OF WHICH YOU SPEAK?

Last fall, we also started offering a survey to random customers during check-out. These surveys ask about customers’ experience (CX) that day: How was parking? How clean was the store? Were staff members helpful? In appreciation for completing the survey, the customer receives a code that turns the survey slip into a $5 coupon. 

We can adjust the frequency with which these surveys are offered so that we can get at least 30 completed surveys per month, the recommended amount to get statistically valid data. About 1 in every 242 customers (on average) get the survey request, and roughly 1 in 6 of the randomly chosen customers who receive the slip fill out the survey. 

We solicit customer feedback in a number of ways: through customer comments, our website, our annual customer survey, social media, etc. But none of these methods are as reliable or timely or representative as the CX survey program. Because the questions and methods are consistent, we can see changes in survey responses over time and get data we can use to find positive or negative trends and then act on it. 

Since we began using the CX system, we have made overall improvement in a number of areas, including availability of products, friendliness of staff, and ease of moving through the stores. Two areas that we’re working on are greeting customers before they reach the check-out lane, and availability of staff—in fact, there is some overlap there, since if we aren’t greeting you as you shop, you may not realize that we’re staff members!

Whether you filled out the annual survey, filled out a CX survey, wrote a customer comment, emailed us, commented on a social media post, or shared feedback in person, we appreciate it when you share your thoughts with us—it helps us to make an even stronger cooperative.