I have gotten smarter in my old age when it comes to holiday cooking, and learned some valuable insights this past Thanksgiving that I'll carry forward to Christmas.
Rather than trying to fit in a Turkey Day road race, attending my nephews football game (they won!!!), and zipping home to cook up my part of the family meal -- most of the side dishes -- I simply ordered from a caterer.
I whipped this task out in early November -- but then came a snag. I learned a last-minute guest could only eat gluten-free food, or face certain hospitalization. I had no idea if what I had chosen qualified or not.
I called the neighborhood grocer, who was acting as a middleman for the local caterer, but the staff there couldnt guarantee the gluten content of my order. I canceled it and switched to dishes from the large, chain grocery up the road.
The chain made special orders like mine so easy. On its website, not only did it list each sides ingredients, but also used the familiar encircled G label that denotes gluten-free. To be doubly sure, I had the guest review the information with me online.
I later realized I could have taken to Twitter, as the large grocery store has an active stream and responds to queries in almost real-time. The company also hosted a #Turkey911 Twitter chat that surely would have resolved my issue.
The grocery chain clearly uses what it learns through social media, and feeds that insight back to stores, buyers, and chefs. In fact, one comment that chastised the companys Maryland store for not having enough loose bulk tea sparked these follow-ups:
We've had challenges in the past w/Tea Vendor; we r now ordering Tea based on projected sales 2 eliminate running low...
We want 2 have freshest Tea avail yet dont want to get 2 far ahead w/product; we will now monitor Tea bins daily; hope this helps
The store manager will now most likely closely analyze loose tea consumption and re-jigger purchasing accordingly. To me, this is a great example of where social media can blend with analytics to generate better, real-time decision making.
In fact, the companys Twitter stream resembles more of a dialogue with customers than the mostly broadcast mode to which some retailers resort.
While I'm a proponent of buying local (I even went back and bought one of my favorite sides the local caterer/grocer carries), this event was an eye opener to the advantages larger retailers offer, including supplying easy-to-access, detailed product data, and improvements based on customer feedback analysis.
Now, about those Christmas yams...