I've felt a blog coming on about "modern times and the shopping experience" for a long time, and finally something has happened to get me motivated enough to write about it. It's going to be hard to keep this brief as there sure is a long list of things "that really bother me" about the various stores we've been shopping at. This'll take more than one post.
What really bothers me? It's not just about high prices. But that too - like onions that nearly cost a dollar and apples that cost more than two - but what else is new? I'm striving, though, to avoid being like my father, who I remember remarking, when he himself was middle aged, that elderly people live in a world with a skewed evaluation of what things are worth, going back mentally to all the old prices of their younger days and tending to be unable to comprehend just how much the dollar had changed in value. Dad seemed to say (like I'm saying now) that he "wasn't going to be like that." Yet he was unable to avoid this fate when he got to be in his 80's, generating some family stories about various things he said and did. He did develop a form of dementia, I should note; but are we all doomed to wind up living in the past when it comes to the dollar?
Outside of inflation, though, I find myself getting quite aggravated shopping, especially at the grocery store. Things have changed. Not so long ago, we'd be able to go to a single store and get all of our shopping done at once. Now, though, it takes a trip to at least two different grocers, and not because we are too picky; stores are perfectly capable of being out of staples. You can't get these stores to admit it, but a large part of the problem seems to be computerized inventory control. Sometimes it seems clear someone has been assigned to check out the shelf stock the old fashioned way, but this never lasts long. It seems clear when this is just being done by computer; you have the phenomenon now of finding empty shelf space one day, going back for the next few months and discovering it still empty. A sample of the things that have been missing for months from certain shelves that I have noticed include cranberry juice, lime juice, black peppercorns, tomato soup, lard, specialty brands generally, and club soda; in some cases what was missing was the most popular size container.
The reactions of the store employees has been very interesting. In modern times, the idea is to provide lip service, while doing nothing to actually correct a problem. One employee told Sue that she wasn't finding black peppercorns because of the difficulties the neighborhood was causing as far as when they were allowed to empty trucks. Supposedly this problem was causing the peppercorns to be missing from the shelf for months on end. Another employee, told that lime juice in an economical size had been missing every time we checked, reacted by getting temporary approval to reprice the smaller size if we bought several. I'm sure that guy went home and told his wife that he was proud of how he solved this problem for us. But really, he didn't do what I would want him to do, and that is to make sure in future that the proper size was going to be there so that we didn't have to stop and try to find an assistant manager or somebody every time we needed the item. After all, he didn't deny it was supposed to be available, but as the weeks went by I saw that nothing had been done to correct the stocking error. When we stated we felt computerized stocking was the problem, oddly these employees tended to deny it.
Now I do have a slight sympathy for those trying to use computers for stocking, humans are not perfect either. My own experience with it is that you tend to overstock certain items, especially popular ones, fearing a loss of profit and wanting to avoid that reputation of being out of essential items. I've screwed it up in my day, and I've seen others do worse; company Buyers can absolutely put a company out of business with their mistakes. We once had a neighbor who could explain what happens when computerized stocking goes bad, though, and it's not all the machine's fault. We went over the missing cranberry juice phenomenon with this neighbor, and I complained the shelves were full of a dazzling array of choices, cranberry juice, cran-apple, cran-grape, cran-apple lite, low fat low salt cran-lemon, high-fiber sugar free cran-mango-soy that doesn't harm the environment, etc., yet the plain regular cranberry juice was not to be found. He concurred, saying his job was to try to make these very systems work, so he would find some guy doing inventory at the cranberry juice aisle grouping all these different choices together as just cranberry juice "because they are all the same price." Well, now of course the computer thinks the store is jam packed with regular juice and desperately needs to order all the other items, being absolutely out of them. I've even become convinced that some items vanish completely, never to be seen again, because some computer notes that the very product that supposedly is vastly overstocked also never sells!
It would seem to be true that buying the items, which all get bar-coded, has no effect on stocking decisions. And all these choices have another irritating effect: it's too darn easy to grab the wrong item, wanting the regular version and accidentally picking up the "lite" version or whatever. Anyway, we are finding ourselves having to go to more than one store these days, we just accept it as a fact. So shopping is a lot more involved, and burns up a lot more time and gas, than it used to. Al Gore call your office.
This isn't what set me off enough to do a post, so stay tuned.