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This free article explores the lessons learnt from visits to two major supermarkets operating in Australia. In this case, the quality of the shopping trolleys provides an insight into the business approaches taken by the two major competitors.

Derek Stockley is a training and performance consultant based in Australia.

How can each supermarket be so different?

In the same weekend recently, we went to two local supermarket stores: Coles and Safeway (Woolworths). Our experience with each store’s shopping trolleys provides an insight into how each supermarket approaches its business.

We have been loyal Coles shoppers for many years. Recently though, we have started to stray. When we went to a local Safeway, the first thing we noticed was the quality of the shopping trolley. It was new, clean and 'drove' very smoothly.

Why did we notice such a simple thing?

Our experience with Coles trolleys is just the opposite. You have to carefully select one that is clear of lettuce leaves and other rubbish. Then you have to check for 'wheel wobble' because quite often a wheel is faulty, causing difficulty steering or giving a strong vibration when the trolley is pushed.

I won’t mention the added difficulty caused by the coin operated ones (where you need a coin to release it so you can use it) - where you lose the ability to make a choice. That is another newsletter article topic in itself!

The Coles store we visited had just been newly renovated. This probably dulled our sensitivity, because although everything was new and fresh, we were again caught out by a trolley that wobbled.

Coles had again let us down. Its trolleys were not up to standard.

The renovation would have been a significant cost. It was a shame that the first impression created by the new store was a bad one. In supermarket shopping, the shopping trolley is often the first thing you notice.

Safeway created a very positive first impression because of the quality of their trolley. The remainder of our shopping experience continued to be positive.


The actual delivery of a service experience is the true measure of branding and marketing attempts. The actual approach by a business to quality systems is what delivers results.

Marketing campaigns create expectations. The heavy expenditure on change programs and marketing campaigns is wasted if the customer does not experience the service at the level expected.

Personal reflection

In your business, do you focus on the things that make a real difference to the customer experience?

Are you actually meeting the expectations that your marketing campaigns create?

Action items

Should we do a 'trolley' audit? In other words, should we walk the floor like our customers do? Should we stand in the queue to see what it feels like?

Should this issue be discussed at our next team meeting?

Related information

Are your business systems arrogant? - an article that describes the arrogance of a major company.

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Derek Stockley conducts public training courses in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, including a Public Train the Trainer Program.

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