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Grocery Store Apocalypse

Until recently, along the front of my local No Frills store, there were bins full of empty boxes, the idea being that customers were welcome to take a box or two if they needed them, and I suppose since the store had to dispose of the cardboard in any case it was a win-win kind of situation, even if bins full of boxes was less than attractive. One day, everything at the front of the store disappeared.

Today I popped over to the Frills today to the get some dog biscuits and a little something for dinner, and I could not help but notice the front of the store is now filled with what appear to be large stainless steel lockers. I asked the cashier about it. “It’s for Click & Collect”, she told me. “The idea is you can order your groceries from home and we shop for you and all you have to do is come pick them up.” I imagine there are some people who are physically unable to shop for whom this is a good thing, although it’s hard for me to imagine this being a successful business model. As well, they’ve spent some serious coin on these lockers, so they must be committed to the idea.

Sometimes I think there must be a bunch of people at the HO of grocery store chains, meeting after a two three martini lunch to sit in a board room and come up with this stuff. It occurred to me the same people work on pricing. The other day I bought a jumbo tub of a brand-name ground coffee for $6.97. Today, the half size containers are $5.97, the same ones that were $2.00 last week. It’s as if somebody throws darts to determine coffee prices from one day to the next. And don’t get me started on blueberry prices. I’m convinced when they hiked them up to $3.97 for a half pint, most of their stock rotted. I tried to be helpful though. I suggested to the cashier that next they should individually wrap blueberries and sell them on a per berry basis.

Meanwhile, they made other changes in the store. For instance, they moved the lunch meat to where the cheese was and the cheese to where the lunch meat was. This likely took a couple people a few hours to accomplish. Somebody must think by doing this, they can sell more of something more profitable, right?

As much as I sometimes think these kinds of decisions are made by half-soused corporate executives, I know better. They study this stuff. After all, they collect enough data from points cards to sink a ship. They have invested in the “Click & Collect” business because data has strongly indicated it will work. Still I think they’re wrong and it will be a monumental fail. Time will tell, I suppose.

The cashier also told me they are installing self-checkout at the No-Frills. Oh boy. For my convenience, no doubt. I don’t much like self-checkout. First of all, I don’t work for Loblaws. Second, I like having a real human I can interact with. And thirdly, I’d like my cashier to have a job next year. My cashier surprisingly disagreed. “I used to think that way too,” she told me, “but it’s not so.” “Sure it is, ” I replied. “Why else would they do it? Why would any company reduce service if they didn’t think there was greater profit in doing it? “Nope,” said the cashier. “We won’t lose our jobs. We’ll just be doing different work, that’s all.” I suspect the Kool-aid she’s been drinking came from the grey-market dispensary down the street.

That’s my shopping rant for today. Don’t get me started on the diagonal aisle-ways at the liquor store. That must drive the employees batty.


  1. Salvelinas Fontinalis

    I have to be the bearer of bad news here. You arent done with the changes to your no frills. I know this because the one near me has been going through the same transformation. It starts with installation of a cardboard compacter. All the empty boxes get squished and when the bin is full of compacted boxes a big truck comes and hauls away a bale of cardboard and pays the store significant cash for it. Then the store gets re-lined which is to say everything gets moved. The plan isnt to just move everything, it is to free up a full aisle, both sides, for new products. To do that they have to stop offering some products and you will very likely notice that there will be things you used to buy that are no longer available. My first trip to the store after the re-line saw 6 products that I regularly buy simply become unavailable. I dont think they just dropped stuff that wasnt selling well, I think they also dropped products where there was a higher margin alternative. This left them with that empty aisle which they stocked with organic groceries. Might be fancy baby food there too, Im not sure , they havent been able to entice me to even walk up and take a look. Certainly it isnt low cost basic food items that you can use to cook up a meal. Then came the self check out. I dont self check out for religious reasons which is to say hell will freeze over before I check out my own groceries. It isnt even because Im lazy. I am one of those obnoxious jerks who actually counts my change and checks my receipt before I bag my groceries. About one trip in 5 I find that their all knowing computer has mis-charged me for something and the scanning code of practice entitles me to get the item for free. I dont know how to deal with that if there isnt a cashier. I also dont know how to tell the machine at the self check out that it needs to price match something. I know they really dont want you to check your receipt and really they dont want to price match either. The next change was to change the direction of the rows of displays in the produce aisle so that there were more aisles of shorter length. That was followed by removing the tables from one aisle and replacing them with fancy low refrigerated units. You do this when you expect product to not sell as fast, perhaps because you have raised the prices. So no more empty boxes, everything in the store moved, many products that I used to buy simply gone, self check out, Higher prices. Oh ya we also have those steel bins at the front of the store. All this no doubt for my convenience. Im not amused and in fact I have been giving them less than half the business I used to give them. That is annoying because it means I have to shop at a second and sometimes a third store to get what I want.

    In the meantime I have noticed that since the start of the year prices on the stuff I buy have climbed by at least 15%. That is pretty rough in a year where out national inflation rate is less than 2%. Some would call this pure greed. A few months ago Galen Weston flat out said he was going to shrink the price gap between discount stores and the full price banners. I guess he could do this by lowering margins at the full price stores or by raising margins at the discount stores. Im not sure why, but Im not believing that that the full price stores have been falling all over themselves lowering their margins. That just leaves cranking up prices at no frills and this is what I have been seeing.

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