Yet more problems with Lidl

Regular readers will know that I am not a fan of the two cut-price German supermarkets, Aldi and Lidl, that have become so popular in the UK recently. Well at least I’m not a fan of their customer service, even if they do offer lower prices than the so-called ‘big four’ supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda and Morrisons).
Given how critical I have been of them, you might wonder why I still bother visiting either of these supermarkets at all. And to be totally honest, the only reason I still use either of them is for convenience, because there happens to be a branch of both Aldi and a Lidl quite close to where I live. And despite the fact that they have both got dreadful customer service, I have to confess that sometimes it is just easier to use them if you just want a few cheap items and don't want the hassle of having to drive further for just a few groceries.
I visit my local Lidl store about once a fortnight, and on at least half of my visits I experience some kind of customer service problem, either related to long queues, incorrect prices, rude staff, shortage of stock, or numerous other service issues that seem to crop up.
And again today, for the sixth time within the last year, I was overcharged for an item which had got one price listed on the shelf, and another price appearing on my till receipt.
For some reason, I have never been under charged at Lidl. When they make a mistake, it is always overcharging. I've literally lost count of the number of times I’ve been overcharged at Lidl.
Of course this can happen anywhere. It's happened to me at all the major supermarkets at some point in my life. But it is much less common to be overcharged at any of the ‘big four' supermarkets. And even when it does happen at a shop like Tesco or Sainsburys, it is very easy to resolve the situation simply by going to the customer service desk where you get an instant refund, without quibble.
In fact in the past Asda even gave you the product for free, and also a refund on top of this, as a way of thanking you for pointing out the error to them. Now that is really excellent customer service.

It’s not the problem that matters - it’s the solution
In customer service issues, it’s not always the problem that matters so much as how the company solves it. I could almost forgive Lidl for making these constant mistakes if they made it easy to resolve the issue and get a refund. But they don't. Almost inevitably, when you have been overcharged at Lidl, you have to wait ages for a till operator to become free to sort out the problem for you. They then put out a call for the manager to authorise a refund, and he or she is invariably on their lunch break or busy in the stockroom. (Or maybe they are intentionally hiding from the customers?)
If I was being cynical, I’d suggest that Lidl sometimes deliberately overcharge people and then make it really difficult to get a refund, so that customers just don’t bother asking for their money back. Lidl can then recoup some of the money they have lost by charging such cheap prices in the first place!!
I’m not suggesting that Lidl deliberately price their items incorrectly to blatantly rip off their customers. But what I think they do is have ‘special offers’ on products (which are listed on the shelf) but then they are deliberately very slow to change the shelf price back to the correct price after the offer has ended.
And then with a total lack of staff on the tills, and long queues of customers waiting to be served, it becomes very time consuming and embarrassing to try to ask for a refund. Well that’s my theory, anyway.
So with all of this in mind, last week I gave a lecture to my postgraduate management students in which we covered the subject of a company’s ‘mission statement’ and ‘vision statement’.
And out of interest, I looked up the vision statement of Lidl and discovered that it is:
“To enhance the lives of our customers, by providing quality products at market leading value, whilst ensuring that customer satisfaction is at the heart of everything we do.”
And to be totally honest, I just don’t believe them. If I was to re-write the Lidl vision statement to make it more ‘honest’, then I would put:
“To expand rapidly in the UK and increase our market share by offering little choice of products and lower prices than other supermarkets. This will be achieved by cutting staffing costs and giving only very basic customer service.”
That doesn’t sound as good, does it? But it’s far closer to the truth of what Lidl are really doing at the moment. And if that suits them, then that’s fine with me. Because it’s quite possible to base an entire business strategy around low prices and poor customer service if that’s what you want to do.
But the problems come later on when your competitors start a price war. How can you compete with them? Your prices are already cut to the bone, so you can’t lower them any further. And your customers prefer the much nicer experience of shopping at a place like Tesco which has a vast product range, far better customer service, shorter queues, and lots of other added customer benefits like loyalty cards, a subsidised cafĂ©, and plenty of staff available around the store to help and advise you.
The truth is that cheap prices can only take you so far in business. Customer loyalty that is based around low prices is not real ‘loyalty’ and it is not sustainable. Sooner or later your competitors will match your low prices, and if your competitors are known for better customer service, then your company will be in deep trouble. In the long-term, genuine sustainable customer loyalty cannot be achieved by lower prices alone. Giving exceptional customer service will always win out in the end.

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