Connecticut has much to preen about with a beautiful shoreline, rolling verdant hills, and the state’s pride and joy – UConn sports. One thing that is not particularly strong in the state is the differentiation between grocers. If one were blindfolded and could not remove it until they were in aisle 5 of nearly any grocery store – it would take a fair amount of time or cheating before it would be apparent which store one was in.
Sure, there is the exception of Stew Leonard’s. Love it or not, the shopping experience is so vastly different there than in other grocers that it is immediately identifiable. The same cannot be said for Big Y, Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, or ShopRite. Unless the shopper looks at the store brand products on the shelf or happens to see the flyer in the shopping wagon that was left over from the previous shopper; mot of us would not be able to identify which store we were in.
The New Kid
So, it was with great excitement and a fair amount of expectation that a trip to Stamford’s newest entry into the food and household goods was made. Fairway Markets had been praised as THE place to go and the one that was finally going to turn the competitive market upside down.
The initial impression the store makes is impressive. Produce stacked as high as one can reach and the variety, presentation, and layout of the row up0n row of fresh fruits and vegetables invites one to browse and make purchases on impulse. From there, the prepared foods call out to the shopper. Soups, pastas, and other foods are packaged and attractively presented.
It is easy to pick up a few things that look and sound delicious, that is, until you check the prices. The euphoria of shopping with one’s eyes and one’s stomach is quickly overruled by the wallet. This is not the place to go to save money. While it resembles the environment of a Warehouse club like Costco or Sam’s, it surely is not.
As someone who shops Stew Leonard’s, Whole Foods, and independent retailers, a high price does not scare me off or out of the store. However, it must be coupled with service, variety, or something that allows me to calculate how there is a justification to pay more than I would pay elsewhere. Fairway scores on this account with some of their unique offerings. The variety available to the shopper is sufficiently different than other retailers that it does provide a unique shopping adventure feeling. The branded products, the hot foods, the counter service food, etc. DO offer something that is not commonly found elsewhere and certainly not as comprehensively. Stew’s has some, Whole Foods offers some, but Fairway seems to have what they have and more. Unfortunately, they also have “less” of a very important ingredient – Customer Service.
Remember Me – the Customer
The deli counter has a selection of hams, salamis, imported meats of one kind or another that all seem to demand that the shopper try them. Signage explains many of the better options and gently prod the shopper to try. Unfortunately, it also requires dealing with the clerk behind the counter. It is there that Fairway crumbles like the bleu cheese they sell.
The line to be served at the Deli was perhaps 6 people long and like is standard at most retailers, the shopper takes a number and waits for it to be called. In the five (5) minutes it took to have my number called, there were no less than three (3) times when a shopper had an argument with an employee for an issue regarding customer service. That continued when one went to check out of the store and in the amount of time it takes for two (2) shoppers ahead of me to be checked out, I overheard another person who had NOT been at the Deli counter while I was there also complaining about how rude the service was in the store.
There is just no excuse for this. Fairway Markets has great products, is beautifully merchandised, and markets itself as a premium offering if one looks at the perimeter departments (fish, meats, prepared foods, etc.) – but treats customers as impediments and not the purpose of their efforts. As much as I wanted to like it and embrace their arrival onto the scene, I left the store with my purchase happy to have done it, seen it, experienced, it – and headed up Route 1 to never again return to the store. Stew Leonard’s, Whole Foods, and even Stop & Shop will get my business over any business that chooses to be rude to shoppers.
While this store does show that there is potential to shake things up locally, it does not ultimately deliver on the promise it has to draw me in and keep me as a shopper. Close, but not nearly good enough to shake loose my grocery money from those that may do less, but do it right.