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As Long as We Remember...

July 21, 2014

Walmart* Shopping Malaise; One Bad Day

Steven R. Berryman

Walmart* is clearly the unequalled titan of retail. Producer of $473 billion dollars in revenue in fiscal year 2014 alone, it remains unequaled as major suction for the US dollar. About $5 a share in value is documented. My recent consumer experience told me that they are not plowing much of that back into the customer experience!


One would expect that due to the sheer economies of scale, attention would be paid to the individual’s experience through some elaborate system of management oversight and well trained associates; far from that, they fully demonstrated that they are a “low cost operator” in all respects!


Last Sunday I lost the coin toss and took on the shopping list of needed quick items; planned my visit to the local Frederick, Maryland, SuperCenter on Guilford Drive. Super means they have an in-house grocery store as well as the usual hard-lines and soft-lines assortments.


Having been personally vested in a retail background since June of 1976, I had an emotional investment in the experience of the shop. I indicated to my friend that it would be a most efficient trip, and that I would save a lot…


...And so, I then did brag upon my shopping prowess…


The experience landed me in the parking lot in front and center of their pharmacy entrance, a huge profit center, and got me a great close-in space to park, neatly alongside a cart return corral. That’s where the good luck ran out!


List in hand, I approached the vestibule area and clutched a yellow cart. It stuck as if glued to another cart, so I tested out several others and finally got a cart loose. Twenty feet later it seems that two of the four wheels had a case of the terminal “wobbles.”


Nevertheless, I thoughtfully considered my list: natural brown eggs, French bread, pretzels, hog neck bones for the cat, grape juice, limes, Greek yogurt, almond milk, and a broad group of other items (all of which I found!) .... I was so pleased at myself for picking the entire list in one swing down the aisles. The furthest from the cashiers’ checkout was, of course, dairy products, and those eggs…


The natural eggs came in a clear container, in order to show-off their nutty brown color. I checked for breakage and headed in record time to the self-serve checkout service…


Holding several freely acquired Walmart* shopping cards, I felt smart and smug in the experience thus far; and then it began.


Ten self serve scanning registers were being watched by a store associate; she ran from location to location fixing scanning problems, register freezes and malfunctions, and bagging sensor errors.


Having about 40 items, I carefully scanned by food type and size, in order to make the un-bagging simpler. Unfortunately, every third item I scanned required employee intervention to reset their cashiering computer.


The bagging area was violated, the item would not scan, all items had to be removed and the system restarted, the barcode was illegible, etc; it became a nightmare scenario of wasted time.


Finally, almost all done. I got to the last three items to scan; one was those eggs. Smartly I turned them upside down and glimpsed the bottom of the clear packaging for another inspection and found – to my dismay – two cracks. I asked the sales associate (who was almost on a first name basis with me by this time) to watch or suspend my transaction while I traveled all the way back to the rear-left-most place in the store for unscrambled eggs.


“No problem, sir…” was the response.


I finally found my way back to find all assisting associates were off with the cashier manager solving some other software related problem, oblivious to the customers. I finally demanded attention to re-start and complete my transaction only to find that the whole transaction was GONE.


It had dropped out. There was no evidence I had ever scanned anything.


“Sorry, sir, you will have to re-scan your groceries…”


I un-bagged and began to re-ring with a red-face. Trying to give the benefit to the retailers out of some unwarranted sympathy, I tried…


Same ole, same ole! Every third item became an exception that needed some secret coded intervention….Arrggghhhh, I said to myself in my pirate voice.


Forget it; I stormed over to the 20-or-less line with a real cashier. I had had ENOUGH.


The second I got to the front, you guessed it, cashier change time; they argued about who, and when and for how long in front of me. The competent looking lady I was counting on for swift service was replaced by a lost-looking young man; obviously a newbie.


Experience dictates: Only go to lines with older women ringing. Always avoid young boys. I was screwed and knew it!


Sure enough, he was sympathetic to my horror story and bagged very s l o w l y. Being a joint shopping experience, I asked for part to go on one card, and the balance to go a series of gift cards with unknown balances. No trick for a trained cashier.


This kid had not clue one! I tried to coach him through it, but before long the five people in line behind me started to mumble “time to call your manager, kid!” The other lady next to her exclaimed “good luck, there were almost no visible managers in the entire store.”


My young cashier tried and tried, I got less and less in my approach to the situation…


Fortunately I recognized the hapless CSM (cashier manager) walking past, attempting not to see us; I yelled him down and dragged him in, unwillingly.


Three quick keystrokes and he had it all fixed up. But not before most of my line had dropped out and done U-turns to points elsewhere.


Nary an apology or comment from any of the staff was forthcoming. I was hurt, and disappointed. Surely the Walmart* billions could have yielded a better outcome at some point for me! And me, an industry insider; harrumph, I was indignant, experience spoiled, now hopelessly late in producing my brunch.


How to explain this?


You get the price, but here is obviously little re-investment in the shopping experience. Training, scheduling, and staffing were obviously big casualties to the low-cost-operator thing.


Of course, the Wegmans and Giants of the world know this, and do capitalize on the knowledge.


Too bad that the twain of Walmart* and Wegmans shall never meet!


Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
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