Founded in 1932, the New York-based grocer Price Chopper (known as Market 32 in some regions) operates 135 stores in the American Northeast. To accomplish a goal of elevating customer experience, the company engages with 5,000 customers through Food For Thought, a Vision Critical insight community first launched in 2012. The insight community provides ongoing feedback from customers and helps Price Chopper make better decisions about strategy, branding and marketing campaigns.
We interviewed Sam Trimboli, consumer insights specialist at Price Chopper, to learn more about his role at the company and how he navigates the evolving retail landscape.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge facing your industry?
Price Chopper is a traditional grocery store, but within the next decade or two, that may not be the case. We fulfill a need for customers, but must keep up with the evolving customer behavior and attitudes. That might mean putting more focus into e-commerce or delivery—whatever it is, we have to be flexible.
No retailer, no matter what industry they’re in, can afford to operate the same way they have. If you look at Amazon, it’s starting to foray into the physical brick-and-mortar stores. Being in-tune with what your customers are doing and how they are shopping—and making it easy for them to access your products—is essential.
Retailers need to remove barriers and obstacles to shopping.
You’ve had a fruitful career at Price Chopper. Why do you love working there?
When I was 15 years old, I started working at Price Chopper as a cashier in Guilderland, New York. Since then (2005), I’ve held different positions in customer service and marketing, both in-store and at head office. I pursued my career at Price Chopper while completing post-secondary education in business administration and marketing.
I’m currently responsible for major consumer insights initiatives across the company, which support our corporate objectives. I want to help our company develop and maintain a clearer understanding of the brand, markets, customers and competitors customers.
The best part about working at Price Chopper is being able to make a difference. I believe that the work I do as a consumer insights specialist helps Price Chopper succeed. After being with the company for the majority—or, more accurately, the entirety—of my adult life, I feel invested in the success of the company.
My experience led me to understand what the customer is talking about when they give us feedback through Food For Thought, our insight community. The community is integral in gaining actionable intelligence about Price Chopper customers. The feedback that we get through the community has informed key business decisions—everything from improving our packaging to enhancing our marketing materials.
“The best part about working at Price Chopper is being able to make a difference. I believe that the work I do as a consumer insights specialist helps Price Chopper succeed.”
Can you share an example of how your community has impacted business decisions?
The biggest impact we’ve seen yet relates to our flyer re-design. Based on customer feedback, in 2015 we started rebranding some Price Chopper stores to Market 32, a new chain of stores that offers healthier food choices and a better shopping experience. During this huge undertaking, we knew we had to do something different with our weekly flyer to be on brand. We went out to the community to understand what type of people look at our flyer, how they’re using it and what they find useful.
From other research we had done, we saw that people thought our old flyer was cluttered—so we decided to simplify. Through the community, we decided what should and shouldn’t stay in the flyer and what to add instead.
Since introducing the new flyer, we’ve seen about a five percent increase in customer traffic. That’s a great success story for us.
“Since introducing the new flyer, we’ve seen about a five percent increase in customer traffic.”
How has the community influenced your personal career development?
Working with Vision Critical has been great. While I collaborate with many departments, I’m a ‘one-man show’ at Price Chopper when it comes to gathering insight. It can get a bit lonely without having another researcher to bounce ideas around with.
I’ve spoken at and attended Vision Critical’s Customer Intelligence Summit a few times and always find talking to people in similar roles or industries very eye-opening. Every time I come back from the Summit, I have so many new ideas. It’s great to see that others share my struggles and challenges when it comes to understanding today’s consumers.
I’ve been so impressed with the Customer Intelligence Summit that I’m bringing my boss to the event this year.
What’s the best thing about your insight community?
The best thing has been the flexibility from a technical, usability and benefit perspective.
For example, we can customize for any type of research. Many departments in our company engage with our community—from marketing, merchandising or pharmacy to community relations and senior leadership. Whether it’s a simple one-off question or an in-depth research project, various stakeholders at Price Chopper can easily conduct their own research with our insight community.
I love that we can get results within a few hours. Not having to wait months for results has enabled us to be more agile in our approach to consumer insights.
Personally, I like using the software because it allows me to be creative. I have 100 percent ownership over everything within the insight community, so I’ve been able to make it my own. In a way, the insight community is a creative outlet for me.
That’s interesting. How do you apply your creativity to your insight community?
I write all of our member communications and support research activities, such as writing questions or reporting. I was also in charge of our community portal’s branding during setup.
Because of its flexibility, the community allows me to improve through experimentation and nuance. For example, when I’m working on invitations to members, I tweak things to see if one way of communication gets more responses than another. When writing a survey question, I sometimes word it one way the first time but change it the next time I use a similar question.
Those small changes would be expensive and tedious if I was working with a traditional third-party to conduct the research.
What are your predictions on the future of retail?
I predict that all aspects of the customer experience will continue to merge. Smart retailers will recognize that the lines will continue to blur between physical and online retail and desktop and mobile.
I’m inspired by the ideas in Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. It’s about customer experience and why people shop the way they do. He highlights why I like what I do in consumer insight: I can’t go to any store and not watch how people shop and behave.
Our thanks to Sam for taking the time to chat with us. To learn more about Price Chopper’s approach to customer intelligence, read the full story here.