Just As I Thought

Tampering with success

The other day I ventured out to the grocery store, dreading it as usual. Giant Food, the grocery store of choice here, was bought by a Dutch company a few years ago, and has been merged with their other companies, including Stop & Shop.
Since then, it’s been downhill. Prices have soared, products have disappeared, and stores have become cluttered.
Now, something new has happened. They’ve ripped out all the old checkout stands and replaced them with new ones. Let me explain: the Giant checkouts consisted of a long conveyor belt which ended at the scanner, with the bagging area right under the scanner. The whole path was a straight line, and the cashier stood at the end of it, scanner and bags right in front of them and customer’s cart to the left. Scanning and bagging were one smooth move, and the bag could be placed in the cart with one quick movement.
And now, these have been replaced with an odd layout that I’ve seen in other stores. The cashier stands perpendicular to the path, facing the customer and their cart. The items move down the conveyor from the right, the cashier brings them over the scanner from right to left using both hands, then the bags are on stepped platforms to their left. Then, to put the bag in the cart, the cashier must move over to the left, lift off the bag, then move over left to put them in the cart.
Try out the ergonomics yourself: Stand at a table and pull items toward you then down off the edge of the table into a bag. OK, now try pulling items across the table from the right, then switching to your left hand and putting them in a bag off the left side. See? It takes longer and is more difficult.
Giant says now that they are hiring baggers to make the process faster. But even if the items are shunted off to a bagger, it’s still a pain — literally and metaphorically — for the cashiers. And I find it interesting that while Giant is hiring baggers, they never have enough cashiers working at any given time in the first place.
They’re replacing many of the checkouts with self-checkout lanes. And these new checkout designs are described as “customer-friendly”. How they’re friendly is beyond me. It would be friendlier to keep the old efficient design and hire more cashiers to shorten the lines.
What I don’t understand here is how corporations work. When Royal Ahold took over Giant, they immediately began remaking it to match their other stores. Did it not occur to them that Giant has been dominant in this market for decades, driving out other competitors like Safeway? Why didn’t they take a look at what Giant was doing right, and then use those ideas in other stores? Instead, they destroyed everything that made Giant a success. They insist that it provides economies of scale… but prices at Giant have skyrocketed.
(There’s a story on this in the Post.)

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