Supermarkets were surely designed with torture in mind; why else would the experience be so consistently painful? Those who defend the unprecedented rise of the massive chains, and the associated demise of many high street shops, state that supermarkets selling everything save both time and money. I refute this claim! Whilst I am prepared to concede that supermarkets are often cheaper, I do not believe that negotiating the assault-course that is a big store is in any way a time-saving endeavour.
I like to imagine that there is someone on the payroll of every major supermarket whose job it is to ensure that their branches are more difficult to navigate than their competitors’. Forget price-matching, we don’t want you to spend less, we just want you to walk further! Why else would they repeatedly swap the aisles about if not to keep their customers on their toes? I know that the logic behind such rearrangement is the idea that customers will buy more if they are forced to walk repeatedly past tempting ‘special offers’ such as the one below, in their futile hunt for eggs (am I alone in my inability to ever find eggs in the supermarket?)…
But does it really work? I for one, would be much more likely to return to a supermarket that didn’t rearrange everything on a weekly basis. This obsession with confusing one’s customers is not unique to supermarkets; other shops such as Boots are getting in on the action, too. I’m sure it never used to be so time-consuming to nip in and pick up some conditioner, yet nowadays it’s an epic mission. On more than one occasion, I have given up and left the shop empty-handed, muttering to myself about how I’ll be composing an email of complaint just as soon as I get home…
Occasionally (very occasionally), I head off to the supermarket full of enthusiasm. Usually this is because I have decided to cook something exciting. This enthusiasm rarely lasts beyond the fruit and veg section. On almost every occasion, my meal plans are scuppered because one vital ingredient is out of stock. I am fully aware that if I ask a member of staff to see if there is one ‘out the back’, that he or she will retire to this elusive ‘out the back’ area to have a cup of tea/eat some cake/have a brief nap between boxes, never to be seen again. Yet still I ask, and I remain hopeful. It gets to a certain time of day (about 4pm, I reckon), and they simply stop replenishing the shelves – gaping gaps render even the most simple recipe an impossibility. Most infuriating is the fact that it isn’t possible to search online for an alternative dinner idea, as I never seem to have reception in supermarkets!
Supermarkets bring out the worst in people, and never is this more evident than during the run-up to Christmas (yep, alas, it has already been established that October is the run-up to Christmas). The shop becomes a veritable obstacle course of hyperactive children, old ladies intent on ramming my ankles with their trolleys, shoppers elbowing me out of the way as they lean across to grab something vital from a shelf, and people who are of the opinion that the cheese aisle is an ideal location to stand (trolleys beside each other), and embark upon a lengthy gossiping-session. I am not immune to this tendency towards anti-social behaviour. On the contrary, on many, many an occasion have I had to resist the urge to remove something small yet crucial from the Christmas trolley of a particularly irritating individual (Brussels sprouts perhaps, or maybe that jar of cranberry sauce… that’ll learn you not to ram me again!)
I would embark on my weekly food-shopping expedition in the middle of the night (a member-of-the-public avoidance tactic, if ever there was one), if it weren’t for the fact that unlike in Scotland, 24-hour supermarkets south of the border don’t actually open overnight at weekends! Ridiculous. Similarly, I would order my shopping online if I didn’t suspect that the pickers are trained to take the fruit and veg with the closest expiry dates (of course they are!), and if I didn’t have experience of them making ridiculous substitutions. ‘We’d run out of whole organic chickens that size, so instead of offering you a bigger/smaller one, we felt sure you’d prefer this party-sized pack of Value frozen chicken kievs’.
I have experienced supermarkets from the other side, too. When I was a student, I worked part-time for a big chain. How I loved the customers who would arrive at the ‘9 items or fewer’ checkout and smugly split their haul into two separate batches of nine items, to be put through on separate transactions… Or those who consistently sought out the cut-price and badly-packaged fish, secretions from which would dribble out onto the conveyor belt. This ensured that I would smell it for the remainder of my shift (always particularly nauseating on a Sunday morning)… Or the ones who always tried to sneak through the checkout with packs of nappies they’d ‘forgotten’ about languishing beneath the trolley… Or the people who liked to argue over the apparent unfairness of the buy-one-get-one-free special offers. If I had a pound for every time an old lady had remonstrated with me over the fact that these were prejudiced against people who lived alone, and that surely the supermarket should make the items HALF PRICE instead, well, I wouldn’t have had to work there any more. Without a doubt, the shifts I dreaded the most were the ones during which the Boy Scouts were enlisted to ‘help’ pack bags… From witnessing them dumping 6-pint cartons of milk on top of loaves of bread and cartons of eggs, to listening to them giggling uncontrollably over purchases such as tampons or panty-liners, these shifts felt endless. Whenever I spot pre-pubescent bag-packers in a supermarket now, I feel massively sorry for the check-out assistants (and hugely grateful that my days of working there are long gone).
I worked in a supermarket before the days of the dreaded self-scanning machine: surely one of the worst inventions ever. Whilst I don’t really like going to the checkout and enduring inane questions such as “do you need a bag?” (No, I was intended on putting all 47 items into my pockets, wasn’t that obvious?), it is definitely the lesser of the two evils. In my local supermarket, there are certain assistants I avoid like the plague (the girl who talks incessantly about everything and anything, the old man who turns each item over in his hands before scanning it through painfully slowly, the bored-looking woman who practically throws all my shopping through as if she’s taking part in a speed-scanning event, to name but a few), but I would still rather go to a real-life person than be left at the mercy of a machine. My heart sinks whenever I am ushered over to one of these torture devices. Below is a list of items that have recently proved problematic for me:
- Fresh herbs – Too light – “Please place the item in the bagging area.” I have, you moronic machine!
- Birthday card – Ditto.
- Wine – The member of staff who was so keen that I use the godforsaken machine is suddenly nowhere to be seen when I need my age verified.
- Anything with a yellow reduced sticker – The machine is clearly designed not to be able to read them, so charges the full price underneath.
- Anything from the bakery department – Every time the single item selected is the one that is not on the bakery list (and you know if you try and sneak it through as something else, the machine will catch you out).
- Nothing at all but the machine starts declaring that there’s an “unexpected item in the bagging area”…. (Yep, that will be MY BAG).
- My money – Why is it that these machines never accept my coins and spit notes out regardless of denomination or condition?
Whilst looking for a suitable image to illustrate the horror of the self-service machine (there’s no stopping me now I have figured out the highly-technical process of inserting pictures!), I came across this:
Can this really be true? I am going to finish here and head off out to my local torture chamber, I mean Tesco, to find out… I will be sure to report back.