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Tops Markets takes a deep dive into data

Tops Markets is turning to data analytics for help in improving customer service.

Two weeks ago, the Amherst-based grocer began using software that helps analyze and interpret point-of-sale data. The program takes data from Tops’ cash registers, analyzes it and feeds it back in easier-to-read reports. In the past, Tops had to comb through and interpret its own data.

The new reports help managers determine what kinds of transactions are occurring, when they’re happening and how long they take, and can help the company make better staffing decisions.

Almost immediately, the company saw opportunities for improvement on its front end. It added more personnel to customer service counters at certain times of the day to handle longer transactions and cut down on customer wait times. In the past, Tops had little insight into the nature of its transactions, but the new reports clearly outlined some things it could change.

“A lottery transaction might take 2 minutes if you’re getting a Quick Draw or something, but if you get behind somebody who’s got a Western Union and wants to do a money transfer, those things can take 15 to 20 minutes,” said Darren J. Wolski, manager of shrink analysis, who spearheaded the program.

The program identified certain stores that processed many more money transfers than the average, so it was able to reallocate staff at those locations to keep customer traffic flowing more smoothly. Before, staffing was done more by a manager’s “gut feel,” Wolski said.

The data also helps stores more deeply analyze what and how customers are purchasing, which can help them refine their store product mixes and ensure that they have the right products in stock at the right times.

“We can ask the system, ‘Hey, tell me how many fish fries I’m going to sell,’ and it blows it up and kicks it right out to us,” Wolski said.

Using data from other days’ fish fry transactions, it can tell the store how much product to order, how many people to staff, how many fish fries to have available and at which times.

Managers can compare notes, too, taking information about brands or types of products that do well in their stores and sharing it with neighboring locations that might find similar success.

The software also performs loss-prevention functions that closely monitor and interpret cashier activity, and can identify patterns that might indicate theft.

The program comes from Waltham, Mass.-based tech solutions firm Profitect.

Tops has been criticized for its customer service in the past. It also has performed poorly in Consumer Reports’ annual supermarket survey. Tops was ranked in 63rd place out of 68 grocery chains included in the survey.

The company’s director of consumer affairs said it is always working to improve customer service.

“Through consistent, careful listening to our shoppers’ feedback, Tops is continuing to develop and implement changes that will better help our store teams serve our customers,” said Janet E. Perc, Tops’ director of consumer affairs.

“Each community that we serve is unique, and its citizens have diverse and specific needs. This new system will help us better address the concerns and needs of our shoppers while saving them time and money.”

email: schristmann@buffnews.com