reblogged by Keith Dickinson.
Living in Texas, we’re fortunate to have H-E-B supermarkets, as well as their slightly more upscale Central Market stores. Almost everyone who follows retail knows the legendary Wegmans–but H-E-B has quietly built a similarly impressive brand reputation in Texas and Mexico.
To say that H-E-B shoppers are devoted to the store is to engage in understatement; they will drive miles out of their way, past many other stores to get to an H-E-B, for the quality, the prices and the unequalled customer service.
As one explanation of the H-E-B acronym goes, “Here, everything’s better.”
And it really is.
(If you haven’t read Roger Dooley’s BRAINFLUENCE yet–get your copy today. I refer to it at least twice a week. It’s a fast read that’s full of news you can use in your own marketing, right now.)
Original article by Roger Dooley in FORBES
1/28/2014 @ 10:00AM |185 views
The Smartest Supermarket You Never Heard Of
If you don’t live in Texas (or some parts of Mexico), you may have never heard of H-E-B, a supermarket chain that hasn’t expanded to the other 49 states. Despite H-E-B’s regional, or sub-regional, status, they have adopted an impressive number of brain-friendly strategies.
Like every supermarket, of course, H-E-B strives for convenient locations, low prices, and friendly people. By and large, they have been reasonably successful with those goals. What sets them apart, though, is their use of techniques that are geared to the way our brains work. Here are a few that I’ve observed:
Shared Attributes: We’re From Texas!
One of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion is “liking,” and a key way to establish that is to point out attributes that both parties have in common. We are inclined to like people more when they seem like us. As a Texas-only store, H-E-B works the Lone Star connection into every aspect of its marketing. In their extensive private label selection, Texas references abound. Many products are branded as “Hill Country Fare,” a reference to the Hill Country area of the state. Coffee varieties have names like, “San Antonio Blend” and “Houston Blend.”
Texas references are everywhere in H-E-B’s marketing.
This strategy would help in any area, but is particularly effective in Texas. That state has an unusually strong sense of identity, and most Texans are proud to emphasize their association with the state. Driving around residential neighborhoods, it’s not uncommon to see the majority of houses sporting some kind of Texas symbol – a five-pointed star, or a state outline.
The sentiment isn’t unlike an allegiance to a sports team. Perhaps it’s not strong enough to induce Texans to paint their faces or wave banners every day, but it’s a pervasive feeling in the state.
H-E-B’s most direct competitor in my suburban area is Randalls, a Safeway brand. Randalls also has Texas roots, but doesn’t exploit this in their marketing.
Commitment: In-Store Sales With Tear-Off Coupons
Neuromarketing research shows that people respond to in-store “sale” signs – that’s why every supermarket uses them. Put a big yellow price sign next to something, and it will light up people’s brains – even if it’s not actually a great deal. H-E-B takes this common technique a step farther – many of their sales are flagged with a paper coupon that you have to tear off.
Why is the tear-off coupon important? Another one of Cialdini’s six principles is summarized as “commitment & consistency.” If you make even a small commitment to do something, you are more likely to actually do it. That’s why so many persuasion and habit-change techniques have you write what you want to do down on paper. In H-E-B’s case, grabbing a paper coupon isn’t as powerful as a written statement that you’ll buy the chips-and-salsa combo, but the act of tearing it off and putting it in your cart or purse is far more engaging than simply cruising by a sign.
Research by social psychologists like Dan Ariely has shown that “FREE!” has a special effect on our brain. The difference between a penny and free is inconsequential in reality but the two values elicit very different behavior, with free being the more powerful motivator.
H-E-B makes extensive use of free offers, complete with large type and an exclamation point. They sometimes offer a “Combo Loco,” pairing one purchase with multiple free items. These don’t always make perfect sense in terms of the products being complimentary, but seem like incredible bargains.
Despite all of the research showing the power of “FREE!” many stores still make offers like, “Buy one, get a second for just $.01!” That’s a mistake I haven’t seen at H-E-B.
Mood Enhancer: Samples Everywhere
Here’s something you may not know about food samples: while they may induce you to buy the product you taste, they also create a halo effect that makes you feel good about, well, everything! As I describe in my book Brainfluence, researchers asked people leaving a supermarket how they felt about their home television. People who had just been given a free food sample liked their TV more than people who didn’t get the sample. It’s easy to believe that the burst of positive energy from an surprise food sample will carry over to the store, other products on the shelves, and so on.
Most supermarkets do some sampling, but H-E-B surpasses just about every store I’ve seen in their enthusiasm to ply their customers with tasty tidbits. Their “demo” kitchen operates for hours every day, and sample kiosks are scattered around the store.
Wine samples in supermarkets and wine shops help brands stand out in an extremely crowded and confusing category. They also cause a neuro-chemical reaction in the shopper’s brain. A recent study use PET scans to show that just the taste of alcohol triggered a release of dopamine in the brains of subjects. In addition, that taste can increase craving, so the probability of the shopper actually buying a bottle no doubt increases.
Wine sampling is an H-E-B specialty. It’s not uncommon to see a two or three wine tasting kiosks in their large wine area and others scattered in different parts of the store. HEB’s competitor Randalls has a gorgeous wine-tasting setup that resembles an in-store wine bar. But, it’s rarely in use. When it is, they rarely sample more than two or three wines. H-E-B, in contrast, has far longer sampling hours and far more variety. During busy shopping hours, it would be hard to navigate the store without encountering a wine sample or two. For H-E-B, it seems, it’s less about an elegant tasting environment and more about getting shoppers their samples. I’ve seen shopping carts pressed into action as make-shift kiosks on busy days.
While this is speculation, I think the combination of extensive food and wine sampling has another beneficial effect: an almost Pavlovian response by shoppers. Personally, I avoid trips to the supermarket like the plague. But, as I’ve spent more time at H-E-B, I find myself objecting less and even volunteering for a shopping run. I don’t believe in mind control, but…
Fluent Shopping: Keeping It Simple
Our brains don’t like complexity. When it comes to customer experience, simple is better. The contrast between H-E-B and their main local rival, Randalls, is stark. For years, Randalls has used one of those annoying programs in which you have to provide your key-ring barcode to get the advertised prices on many sale items. (Mine became unscannable, and then fell off my key ring.) Not long ago, they “enhanced” their program by requiring you to go to their website, pre-select the sale items that you expect to purchase, and print them out. Really? Was this in response to customer demand for a more inconvenient and inexplicably complex way to get advertised prices on sale items?
H-E-B has avoided making customers think, or force them to plan their purchased before leaving home. If it’s on sale in the store, customers get the price without Big Data barcode tracking or mandatory pre-planning.
The psychological concept of not making our brains work too hard is called “fluency.” Simple type fonts, short text, easy to remember names… all of these contribute to fluency. I don’t know if H-E-B had fluency in mind when they designed their customer experience, but by keeping it simple they have reduced customer anxiety and transaction friction. H-E-B customers don’t every have to pay more for an item because they failed to plan ahead and print the sale items.
In his book Brandwashed, author Martin Lindstrom talks about the ways organic supermarket Whole Foods strives to create an aura of freshness in their stores. Whole fish resting on a bed of ice are prominently displayed, even though most seafood is sold headless and pre-packaged. (Faux “chalkboard” signs are another clever freshness cue.)
H-E-B uses the fish-on-ice strategy, and pleasant aromas waft out of their bakery and rotisserie chicken areas. But once again, they raise the ante. Their sushi chefs work inside an island in the middle of the store, in full view. Even more uncommon, H-E-B has an island in the produce department where workers can often be seen preparing guacamole. They cut open avocados, chop jalapenos, etc., and and turn the ingredients into bright green tubs of fresh guacamole.
There’s no doubt that the product could be prepared as easily (and perhaps more quickly) behind the scenes, but seeing the transformation of this fragile, quick-to-spoil product conveys a visceral message of freshness and authenticity.
Does This Work for H-E-B?
Research firm Market Force analyzed the reasons why people choose to shop at one supermarket over another last year. They found, unsurprisingly, that location, price, and selection were the main factors driving consumer preference.
Market Force also created a “Delight Index” and plotted all of the major chains. In this chart, HEB ranks among the best supermarkets. They don’t do as well as specialized markets like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, but are comfortably in the upper right quadrant for customer satisfaction and probability of being recommended to others.
Do you know H-E-B, and, if so, what has your experience been? What brain-friendly strategies have you seen in other supermarkets? Share your thoughts in a comment.
Roger Dooley is the author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing (Wiley, 2011). Find Roger on Twitter as @rogerdooley and at his website, Neuromarketing.