For more than two decades, Giant Eagle Chief Executive Officer David S. Shapira has been an innovator and early adopter in the retail grocery industry. His success in implementing new technologies, processes, and marketing concepts is reflected in the success and growth of his company as the Pittsburgh-based grocery chain has diversified and expanded into a respected and well-recognized multi-state retailer employing more than 35,000 people.
Supermarket News, an industry publication has described Shapira as a man who was “Not afraid to take risks. That trait has won him respect in the industry and has helped put Giant Eagle on the cutting edge of supermarket retailing.” In 2010, Shapira shared his insights with students at the Tepper School of Business as part of the WL Mellon Speaker Series and described how a series of innovations that didn’t seem to pan out initially, eventually led to a big success.
In the 1980s, Giant Eagle unveiled a plan to incorporate bar-code scanners into their grocery stores checkout lines, figuring they would make cash register lines move faster and that, through efficiency, they could potentially reduce costs involved with the checkout process. As it turned out, analysis showed that the new scanners did not significantly speed things up, but they did create the perception among customers that the checkout lines were moving faster. So, with that in mind, they decided to keep the scanners.
In the 1990’s, Shapira supported the introduction of the “Advantage Card”, a new customer discount program, hoping it would be the next big thing to boost product sales and increase their customer base. Although their existing customers certainly liked the discounts, it didn’t really translate into growth for the company. But it proved to be an important “evolutionary” link for the company’s future success.
The technological capabilities of the scanners and the functionality of the Advantage Card would eventually combine to enable wildly successful customer appreciation and loyalty programs during next decade: fuelperks!, a program that offers discounts at the fuel pump based on grocery purchases. Which was subsequently followed a few years later with foodperks!, which gives customers food discounts based on fuel bought at the chain’s GetGo gas stations.
“One of the most common mistakes of business leaders is making decisions that benefit the company instead of the customer,” Shapira said. “Take care of the customer first and the profits will follow.”
The success of Giant Eagle’s customer loyalty programs has now created an opportunity to enhance the shopping experience for customers through data analysis and customization at each of their retail locations.
“Giant Eagle receives data from more than 2.2 million active Advantage Card users to help the stores individualize service for its diverse customer base,” said Shapira. “Our customers are all different. They don’t like the same things. They live in different neighborhoods. They have different ethnicities. The best way to help us is to help the customer to individualize service.
Stressing that a company’s health is tied to the health of the community it serves, Shapira believes it is important that Giant Eagle maintain its five percent rate of pre-tax charitable contributions. Giant Eagle stores also employ hundreds of workers with disabilities in its stores, noting that: although not the original intent, the public’s welcome for these workers has been exceptional.
Shapira advised students to broaden their education, which would prepare them for the challenges that they might encounter during their careers. His father, his mentor, advised him to take the broad view of issues. His father once praised him on a college paper he wrote in which he analyzed an issue from every possible angle.
“If that is all you learn in college, I will be happy,” his father told him.
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