As it appeared in the Daily Nation on Dec 8th 2015
I recall with nostalgia the trips to Uchumi AgahKhan walk and a ride back to Buruburu on Matatu number 23 with a whole month shopping neatly stacked in brown bags. That is as far back as I can remember shopping at Uchumi. I really liked it because I would always find everything on my shopping list. More than a decade and a half later, so much has changed. Uchumi has gone in and out of receivership and then back to empty shelves and is once again trying to rise up. The main question is – will Uchumi win back its once loyal customers?
Just like the new CEO of Uchumi Supermarkets I am a very optimistic person. I believe anything is possible. There is a possibility that Uchumi could get back to its feet. Winning back lost customers though is not an easy task. It requires the concerted effort of every staff member. Will Uchumi get back on its feet successfully?
Many of us detest going into one store and having to visit yet another store to pick something that was out of stock. Whilst having well stocked shelves is a good starting point to winning back customers, a key question that every retailer must ask themselves is – are we stocking the shelves with what the customer really wants or are we just filling the space? Are our customers finding just about every item on their shopping list? I suspect that most of us do not just pick any brand of tissue paper. Having to try out an unheard off brand of tissue paper because the customer could not find what they have used for decades can be daunting. What is even more unfortunate is when a staff casually responds by saying “Haiko” meaning “It is not there” without even offering an apology or giving an indication of whether the item will be back on the shelves soon. Without a caring attitude portrayed by every staff member at every point of interaction other initiatives such as more spacious aisle though good may do very little to win back customers.
It is unlikely that another “Tujenge Uchumi Yetu” campaign will win back customers as it did a few years back. I am certain though that through its loyalty card program Uchumi has expansive customer data that it could mine to reach out to its once loyal customers. Winning back these customers will require a sense of urgency that must be seen in every staff member every day, everywhere in the store. Staff need to take a personal responsibility to win back the customers and drive the sales revenues. The key question is – are they ready to do so?
I closely followed through the Kmart stores closures in the USA because one had closed just a stone throw away. The company which in 2000 had over two thousand stores now only has about 900 stores t. It was once America’s leading retailer, but today it remains one that is well known for running big sales during its store closure. Uchumi too was once Kenya leading retailer. Will it win back its once loyal customers or will it develop a new crop of customers? Only time will tell!
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy