Clean Up, Aisle 5!

When we were still in our Tennessee home, Publix, the supermarket chain, had opened several stores around us in Williamson County. Their stores marked a distinct improvement in presentation, cleanliness and customer service compared with some of the incumbent suppliers.

With our recent move to South Carolina, we were relieved to find a similar grouping of their stores around us. However, we noticed that the exquisite customer service isn’t quite as embracing as we’d come to expect, the produce isn’t always fresh (raspberries often form a mush in their plastic sarcophagus by the time they make it to the kitchen counter) and the whole store renders a lackadaisical approach to their customers – a smile is as rare as hens’ teeth!

Kroger’s had always taken a back seat for us when choosing a grocery store; all the sagging yardsticks above belonged to Kroger’s as a mainline shopping store and we avoided them in deference to more expensive outlets like Fresh Market or Whole Foods. But the purse can only bear so much of those indulgencies!

Here, the roles have been reversed; we spend less in Publix and more in Kroger’s. Their local store takes up half a block and apart from groceries you can acquire clothes, kitchen and bathroom gadgets and accouterments, they have a wine bar to take a break from the chores you went there for in the first place. The cheese counter is an extension of a parent in New York where I can find every kind of exotic and exciting, weird and wonderful stuff including the infamous French soft cheese called Époisses. The stuff is so stinky it’s been banned from being taken onto any public transportation in Paris!

They also have manned checkouts! You can opt to do it yourself if you only have a couple of things but when you have a week’s worth of groceries it’s nice to have someone who knows what the heck they’re doing and a helping hand packing the bags. At Publix, the converse applies; if you have less than 10 items you can choose a not-so-smiling attendant. If you are disabled you can go there too.

My first visit to the self-checkout was an abject, embarrassing disaster – looking nervously back at the line of waiting customers giving me the “rolled-eye” treatment and raised shoulders as I waited for the overworked attendant to swipe this code or press that button. Buy a bottle of booze and see what happens – the hapless attendant has to confirm my Driver’s License to match my graying beard and sagging frame. I now adopt the attitude that it’s the store’s management’s fault, not mine. If there are lines, then they have to wait for my blundering, clumsy efforts to succeed to the point of getting a receipt.

At Costco (who, by the way, should rule the world) they measure and anticipate the gathering throngs of shoppers and man the checkouts accordingly with consequent greased lightning efficiency – which is measured by the amount of customers handled and the amount of goods purchased by each customer.

On a Friday evening at Publix I can’t imagine that the loss of efficiency (and customers?) is offset by paying well-trained, welcoming checkout operatives who speed up the whole experience. In Franklin I knew the names of every one of them and more importantly, they knew me. The manager knew my hobbies and interests, spiking our passing remarks with anecdotes and pleasantries that weren’t just platitudes.

We’re in a middle ground of technological capability – I can’t wait for RFID technology allowing me to walk out of the store, scanning the whole cart and billing my bank account as I walk to the car.



Last modified on Tuesday, 14 May 2024 23:24