Are Big Retailers too Big for Small Consumers?

I adore Food and Retail Store Woolworths. I think we’re lucky to have them. I love the way they package their food, the fact that it definitely does taste better, is good value and is excellent quality. But sometimes, in their quest to be just those few steps ahead of the pack, that much more ecologically correct, and just that bit more tree-huggy, things do tend to get a bit manic!

At the end of August, Woolworths proudly made a big song and dance about the fact that they would be removing all sweets and chocolatesWoolies sweet aisle from its checkout points in order to provide its shoppers with healthier food options. I’m not sure what prompted this announcement, clearly other retailers were not impressed by it as they were all quick to say they would not be following suit. Moms countrywide rejoiced that it would once again be safe to take their little ones into a Woolies supermarket. I myself was nonplussed – I no longer have small children – ok, that’s a slight fabrication, I do have youngish children, but by the time you reach that fourth child you’re immune to whining and you are actually that mother. You know … the one whose children are just helping themselves to stuff and chucking it in the trolley and you’re just ignoring them and everyone else is looking on in gobsmacked horror, whispering to each other “Doesn’t she care?!?!”

So yes, Woolies did not impress me with their grandiose statements. And here we are, screeching into mid-October and I must be honest, I have not seen this sweet-and-chocolate-checkout-point-removal being rolled out in a single one of the Woolworths stores that I’ve visited recently (including one of the new, large stores, which were to be targeted first). I admit, I’m just a mom, I only have a small home of 6 troops to command, not a massive conglomerate of what must at times seem like insurmountable numbers, so I don’t know how these things work. But if you’re making such a fuss about it, surely there needs to be some follow through. It’s kind of like when you’ve promised your child something and then you don’t do it; a teensy little bit of trust crumbles by the wayside, never to return. But I digress – I was saying, I don’t know how these things work – I’m imagining something along the lines of an email to each branch saying something like: Remove the sweets and chocolates from the checkout aisle, redistribute them to the sweets and chocolates aisle, place more boring stuff in the checkout aisle and carry on as you were.

A member of Woolies’ Foods Leadership Team (no, I also have no clue what that is) said in the original announcement that he was ‘delighted’ (yes, he expressed actual delight) that the company he represented was committed to removing sweets and chocolates from their checkout aisles. He went on to say that customers could trust that Woolworths had their best interests at heart, and that as a father himself, he was very proud that his organisation was  leading the way to providing healthier kids’ options. Seriously? Buddy, the options have always been there, and will continue to be there. It’s up to us as parents to make the choices as to what we buy and offer our kids. And are you actually implying that other stores are not offering these same healthy options?

While we’re on the topic of that aisle and options and such … my local Woolies branch seems to only stock the lunch box sizes of dried fruit packs in that checkout aisle, and nowhere else in the store. I know it’s only a smallish store, so maybe larger stores stock them in other aisles too, but here’s the thing: at Woolies mango chunks17.37 pm (they close at 18.00 pm) when I’m stocking up on lunch box fillers for the next few days and 83 people are behind me, while I’m frantically searching for mango chunks but can only find apricot strips in the tiny little boxes that are stacked waaaaaay down there by my feet, I can promise you that there are a few rather unhappy people who cannot even get their trolleys past me in that narrow little checkout aisle. That very cleverly, convolutedly engineered aisle, designed to juuuuuust fit one trolley into it. Now, whose bright idea of lunacy was that? Must have been someone on the Food Leadership Team! Or maybe there’s a Checkout Aisle Leadership Team that they haven’t told us about yet!Waiting in line

Although I often engage in various online surveys and focus groups I don’t recall ever being approached by Woolworths or being engaged by Woolworths on my views of their ‘Good Food Journey’ (yes, they’re on one, in case you didn’t know). Other retailers have forms at their checkouts for customers to complete on topics such as service delivery, stock, and even whether you were greeted on arrival at the till! I’ve never seen such forms in a Woolworths store. However, Woolies assures us that they do interact with customers through numerous feedback alternatives.

But actually, I don’t care! No, I don’t! When I’ve finally found the mango chunks (at 17.48 pm), apologised to the 48 murderous people behind me (the other 35 have given up waiting and gone home), and pushed friendly cashiermy trolley to the next available till, all I want is a cashier to greet me with a friendly hello – because really, all you big Leadership Team people, sometimes that’s what it’s all about. And then, then, just as I’m about to pay, I often want to turn round and grab a couple of chocolate bars (as I ignore thunderous looks from those still waiting in the queue) to munch in the car on the way home!

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