A Freelancer Rants

Supermarkets Supersize

Enough Already!

(A Sample Freelancer Piece)

by Kathy Coogan

Author's note: This gem was inspired by an experience that will be obvious to the reader. The Food Marketing Industry magazine editor who bought it had a sense of humor and enjoyed my rant. His magazine is published for grocery store owners and executives, of which there are thousands. If you noticed that your supermarket added milk coolers in the front of the store, maybe you can thank me for it! Read on.

Am I the only shopper who cringes as her Supermarket continues the process of “size enhancement” of already Super-Duper stores? Am I the only shopper whose greatest grocery nightmare is needing one gallon of milk and one loaf of bread and imagining the miles between? Am I the only shopper who doesn’t decry the absence of sushi when I’m simply seeking detergent on a rainy Tuesday? Am I the only shopper who grabs a box of cereal, any flake will do, as she runs to pick up toilet paper, whose thread count is immaterial?

My nightmare has conceived a market-goer’s dream. And a marketing concept for Supermarket chains from Sarasota to Seattle. You know the area just inside the door of the store? The space that has the shopping carts? And the coin-counting machine? And the cigarette shelves, coupon exchange and gum ball machines?

That is a lovely space. A cozy space. A hop, skip and a jump to my car. I can visualize that convenient, close, comfortable space devoid of those carts, coins and cigarettes. I see it lined with shelves and coolers expertly arranged with the magic geometry mastered by space-hungry grocery marketeers. I see it filled to the rafters with the items most frequently purchased by folks on the run. Any wife, mother, husband, father, homeowner or apartment dweller would know exactly what panorama of necessities should be available in the Front of the Store.

Think neighborhood market, corner store. Remember the one that wondrously sold only what you needed when you needed it? When you were willing to “make do” without “your brand”? When you were replacing something basic that you had run out of, not entertaining Emeril on the porte-cochere. Vendors would fight over this premium space. Re-stocked frequently and with a handy automated checkout, the stuff would fly off the shelves. I imagine a seller/buyer love-fest occurring right there in The Front of the Store.

Somewhere along the line there has arisen the erroneous notion that bigger is better. No. Bigger is not always better. Think chapel not cathedral. Think pied-a-terre not palace. Think sprint not marathon. I’d bet my disposable floor mop and throw in my enzyme air cleaner that most bread-and-butter shoppers, on any given busy evening, would prefer speed and proximity to selection and variety. That strolling from Bakery to Dairy by way of Fish Market and Seasonal Goods for two or three emergency items is no one’s idea of an evening well-spent. That given the choice between a quick two-step in the limited selection at the Front of the Store to a prolonged dosey-do in the million-variety cereal aisle, most last minute folks would choose to shop minimally and frequently at the Front of the Store.

I know, I know, the Mega-Grocers’ goal is to entice the tired shopper to throw lots of impulse purchases into the cart. They’re pushing that sucker anyway, it might as well be full, is the proven bottom-line logic. The old, “While I’m here, I may as well…,” rationale. Is it possible, however, that Monster Markets’ business plan will be made even more robust by the folks who’ll buzz in and out of the Front of the Store Quick Shop instead of buying their milk with a fill-up at the Gas ‘n Go?

Since good old A&P began selling Ajax as well as apples, grocers have kept their ears open to the needs of their customers. When magazine covers became too racy, the covers were covered. When candy and gum at tiny arms’ reach tempted crying kiddies in the checkout lines, frustrated Moms rejoiced over candy-free lines. Chilled bottled water was offered for sale near the checkout for haggard and thirsty shoppers. Shopper/saver cards let us save pennies. Let’s put in an order for a time-saving Quick-Shop that we’ll familiarly call The Front of the Store.

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