Saturday, March 24, 2012

Where the Hell are the Breadcrumbs?!

Supermarkets offer two main connundra to shoppers. Neither of them make shopping an enjoyable experience.

First, supermarkets are constructed to offer absolutely anything and everything to customers, and the varieties and sizes of products have only diversified over the years. Where only different sizes of whole milk were once all you could find in dairy department refrigerators about fifteen years ago, today, milk is available from whole to skim and in sizes ranging from an individual portion to a shelf-sized tank. Pepperidge Farm's original attempt to branch out was to manufacture its famous Milano cookies in mini form. Today, you can get Milano cookies in mint, raspberry, strawberry, double chocolate, in standard packaging or in seasonal colors, and there is even a type of Milano that is more like a Twinkie with a chocolate frosting center.

Variety is good, right? Well, yes and no. There is no question that building on successful lines of products is a marketing strategy employed by companies to get you to buy more of their products. And, based on the ever-expanding size of shopping carts available to customers, it is certainly working. Problems arise, however, when you just want to buy one or two important things. When I returned to the store to purchase the potatoes that I forgot recently, I was stuck. Either I could check myself out, which is always a mistake when you buy anything without a bar code, I could stand in a line behind several people, all of whom had chosen the extra-large shopping carts and had stuffed them to full, or hope someone was standing near enough by the "Express" lane to check me out. Oh, and I don't think that 15 items constitutes a "small" order, either.

The other problem is product placement in the store. Yes, indeed, the produce, the bread products, and the dairy aisle are all miles apart on purpose. My main problem is the fact that the same item or classification of items will be in completely different places in different supermarkets. Remember the bread crumbs? I'll never forget how hard they were to find in one particular supermarket I went into on what was supposed to be a quick trip. I checked the bread aisle, the Italian food section, the baking needs aisle...nothing. Then, I found them--they were on a shelf over a waist-high freezer across from the processed meats and the yogurt (????).

This prompted me to look for breadcrumbs in every supermarket I went into. In addition to those mentioned above, locations include: next to the foil baking pans, under the spices and next to the salt, across from the cookies, and next to the chicken pieces. And, going into the same supermarket chain in different towns didn't help either. Years ago, Stop 'n' Shop used to have computers in the store that would tell you where items were located in relation to where you were standing. Today, I'd have to track down and ask a store employee, and unless you're in the store during restocking hours, you're out of luck before you start there.

I don't know anyone who looks forward to a long, leisurely trip to the supermarket. However, between tracking down products, walking half a mile between areas where essentials are placed, and waiting through an inefficient charge-and-pay system, you may as well plan on cashing in some of your obviously abundant extra time.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Impossible Shoe Dream

Comfortable, yet fashionable, shoes for women do not exist.

There is no greater evidence that men have truly held the reigns of women's fashion than the shoes that are generally on offer at shoe stores and department stores alike. The "armadillo shoes," shown above, are the epitome of this trend, however, they are so uncomfortable, and so dangerous to walk in that these models actually refused to wear them in a fashion show.

Now, I'm fairly sure that most of us aren't going to start wearing anything like that, but I would still like to know why women's shoes range from this:

To this:

The latter is an emergency that even Dr. Scholls couldn't fix.

It's amazing what we can do these days. The treatment of once-fatal illnesses, like cancer or AIDS, can ensure a long, healthy life. IPads are going where no one has gone before using Star Trek-era technology. Everyone asks what may be coming next. So, I ask you, why is it impossible to make even a practical women's shoe/boot/heel comfortable if she's going to be standing on it for more than five minutes? Why must shoes merely "look good" on a woman's feet, or enhance her physical attributes, such as setting off her legs or making her look (perhaps nearly a foot??!!) taller?

One of the most difficult things is finding shoes when I'm about to go on a vacation. I tend to visit places that I want to explore, and I often have to accomplish that exploration on foot. A walk of one mile or more completely eliminates the use of my ankle-high boots, so I am forced to find an alternative. On my last trip to the UK, I actually ended up stuffing shoe inserts into a pair of shoes made by Merrell. Merrell is well-known for making comfortable shoes, but even their sophisticated models wouldn't make the cut on their own. The shoe inserts only managed to shove my foot up against the top of the shoe without making the journey any easier. Socks can be as much a hindrance as a help. Fortunately, I have discovered that feet are incredibly resilient--one solid night's sleep and, bingo! Back out on an equally long walk as if the overindulgence of the previous day never happened.

Every designer wants to create the next big trend that will send women running to the stores. I'll let you guys in on a secret--design a pair of great-looking shoes I can walk 5+ miles in without my needing a foot soak at the end of the day, and you'll never have to work another day in your life.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Leave Me Alone, Loyalty Cards

I don't know what it is today with the "loyalty card" trend. When I go shopping, which is rare beyond necessary bathroom items and food, I always know exactly what I'm looking for. I've usually thought it out in advance, counted the cost of the items against my budget, and I want to get in and out as quickly as possible.

Of course, I expect that whomever is on the opposite side of the counter is going to try to sell me something in addition to my planned purchase. For example, I recently visited a Clinique counter to buy a moisturizer I really like, but I can rarely afford. I selected the moisturizer, made every sign I could that I was ready to cash out, and:

"Are you interested in any eye creams?"

"No, thank you."

"Would you like to try any make-up colors today?"

One question I can take, but two questions when I'm standing there, wallet out and debit card in hand? Seriously?

Or in GNC where I wanted to buy two boxes of probiotics: First, a store employee made a move to open up a second register so I could cash out faster, and, for some reason, she couldn't get the other check-out guy's attention to help her unlock the register. Then, after the other customers had long since left, she finally started to check me out.

"Are you interested in signing up for a loyalty card today?"

"No, thank you."

"Do you know about our loyalty card program?"

"Yes, it has been mentioned to me before."

"I mean, if you sign up, the next time you buy these, it will be X dollars off from that purchase."


I visited seven stores of varying kinds today. Of these, in five stores I was either offered some kind of a customer loyalty card or some kind of a special credit card specifically for that store. Of the remaining two, I already possessed a credit card for the store in one case, and the other does not offer either loyalty cards or credit cards of any kind.

When I select my items and get up to the register, I don't appreciate being detained for an extra two minutes while I am offered all kinds of cards and coupons or while I am being solicited for personal information like my e-mail address, home zip code, or phone number. In an attempt to capture customers and keep them coming back, companies are sending some of their more loyal customers running into the nearest alternative. I return to many of the same stores already without loyalty cards upon which I can rack up points. I go there because they have a product I like, for example, which is really what it is all about. However, I am more than willing to find a similar product I like just about as much--maybe even significantly less--in another store where I know for sure that I can cash out quickly and reliably. If Walgreens is closest to me, I'm going to go to Walgreens. I'm not going to take a detour miles away to a CVS simply because of a point-gathering piece of plastic.

So, for heaven's sake, leave me alone. If you do, I may be inclined to return to your store.