Major-multiple search improvements

Originally posted as A Different Hat, Nov 27 2009, 05:01 PM

Recently, my family and I have had major, multiple retail problems. Personally, a fundamental shift has been forced onto my purchasing behaviour. My local Somerfield has become a Co-op.

On the good side, the place looks cleaner in every way, they sent me a discount voucher booklet which was handy because I like discounts – they even offered me a discount for my funeral.

And, most important to me, the Co-op retained the staff from Somerfield – all of whom I like. They have always been nice, polite people and I admire them a lot. They work hard and they smile at me and say ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ and ‘thank you’ when I buy things from them.

A few years ago, Somerfield tried to replace these kind, helpful staff with machines where you scanned in your own goods and then paid for them automatically. But I made a stand. I refused to use these machines. They didn’t smile at me and they didn’t say ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’. The check-out people were right behind me and, quite quickly, we repelled these horrible, faceless, mutant machines. I refused to use them and the check-out staff continued to be unfailingly polite to me. Power to the people!

So, I like the Co-op and I hope their new store works for them. But I do have a problem with them, and it is a problem which might actually be a problem for the Co-op more than me. I’ll come back to that.

In the meantime, having said I like the people at the Co-op, at least I find it easy to approach them when they move the stock around the shelves – which I am told is a tactic retailers use to promote impulse purchasing by their regular customers.

But moving on, as it were, last week my wife had a whole new problem.

Here’s the story. We went to buy a sofa on Sunday. And we had invited some friends round to our house for a drink that evening. No big deal. Just one other couple and their daughter who is a friend of our daughter. We had some wine and even some gin in stock but we had run out of tonic and we needed some juice for our sweet girls and some snacks and some dips. I’m a guacamole man myself (unlike Peter Mandelson who likes mushy peas, I’m told).

The plan was we would buy the sofa and then we would go to Asda, where my wife does her weekly Monday-morning shop, for the nibbles.

But things don’t always go to plan and, in this case, we took much longer than we thought we would not buying a sofa. We found what we wanted. But twelve weeks delivery? What’s all that about? We want one now!

Anyway, near the sofa shop there was a Tesco. Great, we thought, let’s see how the real people live in the big, wide world. We’ll pop in there. So we did. We bought all the drinks and nibbles we needed. It was a bit crowded, but it seemed a great place – lots of offers, lots of different things and even an upstairs bit and a petrol forecourt outside.

So impressed was my wife that she announced that, the next day, she would do her Monday-morning shop at Tesco instead of Asda.

In the event, she had a nightmare. She had her standard list of things to buy but she couldn’t find anything! Up and down the aisles she went. She found this at that end of the store, that at the other end of the store and went off her trolley pushing it up aisle and down aisle.

Sure, there are signs above the aisles but lime pickle? What is it? A ‘sauce’? An ‘international food’? Or is it a ‘dip’ like those we had bought the day before? No one seemed to know. And the whole process took three hours – twice as long as Asda.

Which brings me back to my Co-op problem. I can’t find anything!

Remember, I like my new Co-op, I like the people who work there and I like that Co-op kept their jobs for them. But when it was a Somerfield, I knew where everything was and I popped in there most days to buy a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

Now I don’t bother. I’m in a pickle. And that’s why I think the Co-op are in a pickle too. Quite simply, I am not spending as much there as I did when it was a Somerfield. And my wife never wants to go to Tesco again. She’s sticking with Asda, thanks.

So, isn’t it strange that for all this world of ‘search’ that we live in, and for all the millions they spend urging us to go to this one instead of that one – including, no doubt, how to search for them online – these major multiples can’t find a better way of telling us where anything is when we go to their stores?

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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