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Now that’s smart messaging

Several retailers did great jobs recently in communicating to customers, employees and communities.

Retail communications is easier when it’s about positive news—like an employee promotion or
winning an award.

The difficulty comes with more complex topics—such as shoplifting or shutting a store. There’s a lot of complexity these days and a few retailers have done great jobs in nailing how to relay difficult messages to customers, employees and communities. Their communications are anything but tone-deaf. It’s worth calling out their efforts as important lessons for all retailers.

Giant Food and shoplifting

Shoplifting has become a growing problem across retail, and store leaders are focused on the safety and well-being of employees and customers. Giant Food recently unveiled a series of anti-shoplifting measures at one store in Washington that was especially plagued by shoplifting. These measures ranged from adding receipt checks to replacing many national brand health and beauty care products with private brand items. The retailer was candid in relaying this news to the community and made clear that it doesn’t have all the answers. “None of the tactics we deploy is the ultimate solution to the problem we face, but we continue to invest in efforts that will improve safety for our associates and customers and reduce theft,” said Jon Arons, communications and community relations manager.

Wegmans and shutting a store

It’s always hard to announce a store closing to a community. That was true for Wegmans when it recently decided to end the five-year run of a unique store in Natick, Mass. The multi-level store was large for a Wegmans (146,000 square feet) and operated with an escalator in a major mall.

In communicating the pending closure, Wegmans was transparent and got right to the point. It said the store had underperformed and the experiment didn’t work, but the retailer was not giving up on the community, and that employees were being offered positions at other area Wegmans. “Unfortunately, with this non-traditional location we are unable to attract enough customers for our business model to work,” said Brien MacKendrick, human resources director, Wegmans New England division. “We love our Natick community and customers, and we’re eager to pursue new store locations in the area for the future.”

ShopRite and checkouts

Hearing pushback from shoppers isn’t fun. Wakefern Food Corp’s ShopRite stores in Delaware received negative feedback from some customers after increasing the focus on self-checkouts in 2021. Those stores recently reintroduced designated full-service checkout lanes with cashiers. ShopRite struck a smart tone in communicating this reversal and underscoring its sensitivity to shopper needs. “You asked. We listened,” the retailer said in mailers to customers. The chain elaborated further in a statement published by a Delaware newspaper. “With labor shortages beginning to ease now, we are adding back full-service lanes and offering a more hybrid self-checkout/full-service experience for customers. We are always evolving, adapting and listening to our customers so that we can provide the best possible shopping experience.”

Walmart and generative AI

There’s a lot of talk about AI, and some of it centers on fears about AI replacing human workers. Walmart recently introduced a new generative AI-powered feature called My Assistant, which aims to help employees accomplish certain repetitive tasks and free them up to improve customer experiences. A Walmart executive deftly addressed the AI elephant in the room about workforce. “GenAI can help us work faster and more efficiently, but it also has limitations,” wrote Donna Morris, executive vice president, chief people officer, in a LinkedIn post. “For out-of-the-box, truly brand-new thinking—that’s what humans are good at.”

Why these communications succeeded

These retailers succeeded because their messaging was nuanced, honest and transparent. As a result, their communication styles will connect very well with customers, employees and communities. This is always important, especially when the discussions get complex.

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