29 October, 2008

Wait - There's Something...Different Here.

I went to Stop & Shop this morning, early, right when the doors unlocked. It was kind of strange.

The front of the store seemed lighter, airier and more spacious. The main aisle along the front endcaps seemed wider and easier to maneuver. There were only a few checkouts open (not many customers so early in the day) and the cashiers chatted with customers as they totaled up purchases.

I stood in line and unloaded my carriage. There really was something different here this morning. I just couldn't put my finger on it.

And then suddenly, it hit me: there was nothing here but the checkout stations. No small beverage refrigerators. No magazine racks. No bins of candy bars or pegboards filled with hair ties, disposable razors, or other impulse-purchase junk. Just conveyors and cash registers. Once I mentioned it out loud, the cashiers and other customers looked around wide-eyed: "Wow! So that's why it feels so different in here!" It turns out that the night maintenance crew had removed all the extra racks and "furniture" at the registers so the floors could be stripped and resealed.

Supermarkets are low-margin businesses - they deal in a lot of perishable items by their very nature and throw a lot of stuff away, which eats deeply intro profits. To make up for that, they display lots of higher-margin impulse items in the checkout lanes: candy, gum, and snacks at child-seat eye level (that's not accidental, you know,) lurid tabloids and "celebrity" gossip rags to titillate your prurient curiosity; gadgets and inexpensive health-care items that seemingly everyone needs but no one remembers to pick up while cruising the aisles; cold drinks temptingly at hand right there at the register end. It all adds up to claustrophobic little canyons where we all line up to pay.

I recognize the supermarket's need to turn a profit. But I'm sorry that they have to do it by needling us at the checkout. Judging from people's reactions in Stop and shop this morning, customers and employees are happier when they're not surrounded by all that culch.


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