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Anniversary Issues Northeast

Fulfilling Customer Promises Through Choice, Value

customer Tops

For 60 years, Tops Markets has maintained a loyal customer base by combining unparalleled selection with exceptional customer service. 

“No matter what iteration we’ve been through as a company, our core focus has been the same,” said Mike Nugent, VP of merchandising. “Our consumers have never wavered in their understanding of who we are. That has allowed us to continue to grow.”

Go-to source for national brands

Tops is known for having the widest selection of national and local brands. 

“Whether it’s a 13,000-square-foot store or a 100,000-square-foot store, our SKU assortment is stronger than anybody’s,” said Jeffrey Culhane, SVP of merchandising. “It’s in our DNA to have that variety to give consumers the most choice.”

Shoppers who want more organic and fresh foods and those who want snacks and soda will find what they are looking for at their local Tops store.  

“Our go-to market strategy is about consumer choice. It is about a wide breadth of offerings,” Kristen Hanson, VP of center store sales, merchandising and pharmacy. 

The chain is committed to providing customers with plenty of choice across every department in the store. 

“Meat is very important to consumers in the Upstate New York market,” said John Persons, president. “We process and cut our meat in-store every single day to make sure it’s fresh. It’s what our customers want.” 

Tops customers also want deli products sliced on site, so Tops gives them a choice to purchase cold cuts pre-cut or fresh cut.

Tops knows its customer

This is a chain that knows it customers and gives them what they want. 

“We believe our customers are still looking for value day in and day out, and we are still a promotional retailer,” Persons said.

Stores always offer a Value Zone section of seasonally-tuned private label products with GM and branded value products layered in.

Values are highlighted throughout the store, such as the chain’s Pick Five program that offers customers five packaged produce items for $10 or five meat or seafood items for $19.99.

During the pandemic, when many retailers pulled back on ads, sales and promotions, Tops held to its value proposition strategy. 

“In some cases, we doubled down. We wanted to be that beacon of normalcy in a storm of chaos,” Persons said.

The company’s fuel loyalty program, that offers gas discounts for every dollar spent at Tops, reinforces the chain’s value positioning. About 70 percent of Tops primary shoppers participate in the chain’s fuel rewards program and have made the program so successful, suppliers often offer bundle deals to give customers additional gas points when they purchase a specific number of branded items.

Couponing is also critical in this market – Western New York has one of the highest penetrations of manufacturer coupons in the country – so Tops runs coupons in ­circulars and targets deals to customers using its data intelligence.

“October is pet wellness month, so we’ll make extra efforts to target pet families during that time,” said Diane Colgan, SVP of marketing and business analytics.

Tops also targets its over-60 customers with specific discounts during Young at Heart promotion days, with a 6.0 percent discount for shoppers 60 and older who use their loyalty cards.

Keeping it fun and fresh 

Tops also is committed to keeping its merchandise  mix fresh. A robust GM department has become a key differentiator in its markets, and the chain’s changing displays keep customers engaged.

“We are committed to all things seasonal – home décor, seasonal candy, soft goods,” Hanson said. “It creates one-stop shopping.”

The chain recently partnered with Ohio Pyle on a high school and college spirit wear program that has been a huge success. Another offering on football-themed bedding has seen phenomenal sell through.

“This category is highly impulsive. It’s about finding something that wasn’t on your list. It’s the thrill of the hunt,” Colgan said.

Good experience every time

Customers have also come to expect great service at Tops. 

“We have amazing store teams that embrace the importance of engaging with our customers,” said Cheryl Colbert, director of customer experience. “When we hire, we make sure to hire the person who’s willing to be polite because politeness goes a long way.” 

Communication and engagement are the backbone of great customer service, according to Colbert. 

“A lot of our employee training is focused on building trust and loyalty with customers. You do it one customer at a time,” she said. 

And Colbert believes all customers should always leave Tops feeling satisfied. 

“Even though we strive for excellence in every instance, there are times when a customer isn’t happy,” she said. “If we slow down and listen to the customer, you can turn almost any situation around. We want to make that customer happy quickly. I remind my team that it’s going to cost you more to have someone leave angry.”

Always looking forward

Tops understands customers are always changing, and the chain strives to stay ahead of their needs, from more nutritional choices to more convenient ways to shop.

“We want to be forward-thinkers so we’re not reacting. Being proactive not only benefits us, it benefits our customer,” Colbert said.

The chain has expanded its Certified Organic assortment of products by 50 percent since 2016 to over 4,600 SKUs in stores today. It also has enhanced nutritional information throughout the store. Shelf tags call out certified organic, gluten free and plant-based items.

“Education is important to providing service around wellness,” Colgan said. “We provide a lot of nutritional information through our various communications.”

And with other technologies, Tops was one of the first to market with Shop+Scan and the first retailer in the area to offer the Starbucks’ mobile app to its customers. The chain also upgraded self-checkouts at 53 stores over the past 18 months. 

“Our self-checkouts are faster and more efficient and help the stores offer much better service,” Colbert said. 

On the sustainability front, Tops added Flash Foods to a number of its stores to reduce food waste and has started to incorporate electric charging stations in several of its parking lots. 

As Tops moves into the future and adapts to new market realities, one thing will remain constant. The supermarket retailer’s commitment to its customers will drive every decision the company makes.

To read the full anniversary section on the grocer presented by The Shelby Report, click here.

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