I’ve never worked in the retail industry (and I’m not sure why it’s so top of mind recently). But I like to think from the years I’ve covered business that the ultimate goal of a retailer would be to have customers that visit them automatically, almost without thinking. That is, their default.
Isn’t the goal of business customer loyalty? Isn’t it cheaper to retain a customer than to spend money on marketing to entice new ones? You’d think.
I first ran into this situation many years ago with Macy’s. Macy’s was my default department store. Household goods, wedding gifts, clothing. It served my needs. But then I noticed something odd – this loyalty wasn’t being reciprocated. Its customer service deteriorated. Its product quality deteriorated. In frustration, I finally wrote a letter of protest to a company executive and received in reply a grammatically challenged letter from somebody’s executive assistant.
Today, the only time I step inside a Macy’s is to look for Frango’s candies (and even then, I can’t look at a display without thinking how much better the selection is at the store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago).
Now, it’s happening again. Walgreens has been my default drug store. It’s the largest drug store chain in America, but it’s also always been the most convenient to a lot of places I’ve lived. The one around the corner from our house is not only convenient, but the staff is extraordinarily friendly. And you can find the most amazing selection of merchandise there. But now … [grimace].
It all started with the announcement from competitor CVS that it would stop selling cigarettes later this year. That seemed like a pretty good idea for a company like Walgreens that touts itself as being “at the corner of happy and healthy,” but when I asked them online if they would follow suit, the long-winded answer eventually translated to … no. Apparently, cigarettes are simply too profitable a habit to kick.
Then last week, word went out that thanks to its acquisition of Swiss drug store chain Boots, it was planning – at its shareholders’ urging – to become a Swiss company in order to avoid U.S. tax rates. The process is known as inversion, and according to the linked San Francisco Chronicle article, a lot of technology companies do it – but Walgreens is one of the few consumer-facing organizations to consider it. Really? Not a company I want to support.
And just to season the cranky pot a little more, word came out just a couple of days later that three years ago Walgreens had actually fired an employee who – suffering from low blood sugar – had grabbed a bag of chips from the shelf in order to keep from going into diabetic shock. Her crime? She didn’t pay for the bag of chips until later that day. The story hit the news because the EEOC ordered Walgreens to pay the employee $180,000 in compensation for her illegal firing.
I’m not sure how easy this split is going to be. I have to figure out how to move my prescriptions – and where I’m going to move them to. I have to fight the temptation to go to the most convenient drug store, rather than one more deserving of my patronage. And hope they don’t start selling Frango’s.