Safeway changes to help ease shopping for blind

Filed under: Retail |

New devices are being installed in Safeway stores to make it easier for visually impaired shoppers to purchase items.

Shoppers who struggle with reading the touchscreen on point of sale payment machines will now be able to use a standard telephone keypad, which plugs into existing POS payment machines allowing them to enter their PIN, telephone number and other information privately and independently.

The change is the result of a collaboration among Safeway and major blindness organizations, including the American Foundation for the Blind, American Council of the Blind and the California Council of the Blind.

Every Safeway store in California has been equipped with the devices, and they will be installed chainwide during the next year.

Safeway operates 1,767 stores in the United States and Canada and had annual sales of $38.4 billion in 2005.

Wild Oats’ brands to appear in supermarket

Wild Oats Markets Inc. of Boulder is partnering with Price Chopper Supermarkets to bring the entire line of Wild Oats-branded natural and organic products to all 115 Price Chopper Supermarkets, which are in six Northeastern states.

Distribution will begin after the holiday season. Wild Oats operates 114 natural food grocery stores in the United States and Canada. The company’s stores operate under several names, including Wild Oats, Henry’s Farmers Markets, Sun Harvest and Capers Community Markets.

The Colorado retailer reported 2005 sales of $1.l billion and $3.2 million in net income.

Customers give vote on best service

Amazon.com rang in as the nation’s top company for customer service, according to the second annual National Retail Federation Foundation/American Express Customer Service Survey.

Amazon.com is followed by Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, Overstock.com and Lane Bryant. Retailers making the top 10 included Boscov’s, Kohl’s, REI, Lands’ End, and Macy’s.

The top 10 will be honored with the “Customers’ Choice” award, given to companies that have achieved a reputation for excellence in customer service.

The survey, which polled 8,001 consumers, was conducted by BIGresearch from September 6-13.

“Consumers are beginning to demand more from retailers and are making conscious decisions about where to shop based on their expectations for good service,” said NRF Foundation President Tracy Mullin. “Making sure that customers have an exceptional shopping experience is at the top of the list for retailers this holiday season.”

When it comes to service, customers say they expect the most from restaurants, which had a 4.46 rating of 5. Specialty stores (4.4) and department stores (4.12) were next on the list.

Although they expect more from some retailers than others, shoppers’ expectations of service rose in all categories this year compared to last.

According to the survey, customers’ service expectations have risen the most with warehouse clubs (a 3.86 rating this year compared to a 3.58 rating in 2005, a 7.95 percent increase), discount stores (3.40 vs. 3.21, a 5.88 percent increase) and online (3.92 vs. 3.71, a 5.75 percent increase).

Criminals take advantage of return policies

Return fraud is expected to cost retailers $3.5 billion this holiday season, according to the NRF Return Fraud Survey.

Criminals abuse return policies to receive cash for stolen merchandise, launder money or return an item after it has been used.

The survey, which polled 90 retailers, was conducted from October 2-27.

“Retailers have often viewed lenient return policies as a cost of doing business with honest shoppers,” said Joseph LaRocca, NRF vice president of loss prevention. “Unfortunately, due to an increase in return fraud, retailers are being forced to strike a delicate balance between servicing loyal shoppers and discouraging opportunistic criminals.”

According to the survey, the most popular form of return fraud is the return of stolen merchandise, which 95.2 percent of retailers have experienced during the past year. Retailers say they also have been plagued by returns of merchandise that was originally purchased with fraudulent or counterfeit tender (69.1 percent) and returns using counterfeit receipts (52.4 percent).

Additionally, stores commonly find consumers attempting to return merchandise that has been used but is not defective. This practice, called “wardrobing,” has affected more than half of companies (56 percent) during the past year and can include returns of items ranging from special occasion dresses to laptop computers.

Retailers often cannot resell this merchandise at face value and are forced to either heavily discount or discard the used merchandise.

Also, wardrobing frequently makes merchandise in the most popular sizes, colors and models unavailable to other customers who would like to purchase the product.

Return fraud has become so rampant in the industry that more than two-thirds of retailers (69.1 percent) said their companies’ return policies have been changed to specifically address the issue.

Retailers surveyed said that the amount of returns typically rises after the holiday season, from an annual average of 7.3 percent to a post-holiday rate of 8.8 percent.

Joan Johnson covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.