Monday, May 22, 2006

Axis Of Evil 2006 - Iran, North Korea, and ... Kroger?


I try to be a nice guy most of the time, but one thing I really do not like, and have frankly no patience for, is organized lying. Oh, I get it that a lot of people lie for a long range of reasons and habits, and sometimes it’s just a dumb thing people start doing for no good reason, like the guy who could tell a story about what happened to him one day, and he turns it into a grand adventure. I’m not talking about those kinds of untruths, especially when the speaker/writer makes it clear he is not presenting his tale as fact. I’m talking about people who make dishonesty an integral part of their way of doing things, whether one means the ‘nuclear material enrichment for peaceful purposes only’ excuse in Iran, the ‘we’re not really assisting terrorist groups, we just happen to be talking with a few men who happen to belong to such groups’ canard out of Pyongyang, or the ‘Sorry, we just happen to not that advertised item in stock ... again’ line from Kroger.

All right, all right, I am not seriously suggesting that the deceptive advertising practices at Kroger are really comparable to acts of state which endanger the lives of millions of innocents. But it gets under my skin, anyway. You see, one thing I love about America is the success of its businesses, but an amazing number of them are, well, very badly run. Just take a hard look sometime at the operations protocols at your own place of employment, and I bet many of you will notice a few illogical moves. And one strong example of near-ubiqutous moronics in practice would have to be grocery stores.

To my mind, and I admit that I may refine my opinion when I have the schooling to reconsider it from a deeper perspective, a business needs to have one or more of three things in order to succeed:

1. Low price, relative to other area merchants of the same or similar products;
2. Convenience, in terms of meeting a broad range of needs or desired items, fast service, or in some other way offering a time and effort savings relative to other area merchants;
3. Unique quality or product, the offer of something simply unavailable from other area merchants.

That really should be obvious. Looking at the flyers in any local newspaper or mail-outs, the attempt by so many grocery chains to claim low price is obvious, but the pursuit of elements 2 and 3 is all but ignored. Sure, the commercials make the stores look convenient and high-quality, but there’s not much real effort made to actually meet those standards in real life. Some years back, the Randalls’ chain here in Houston made a strong effort to do a great job at service, but they had higher prices than their competition, and the experiment was junked by new owners. Now, they still have notably higher prices, but distinctly poorer service. Other stores have had their heyday, but as a chain none really stands out. The HEB chain once seemed poised to grab significant market share, but they got spend-happy with building a bunch of SuperStores, which resulted only in more crowded parking lots, longer lines, and naturally, higher prices.

I could go on about the sector of retail grocery stores, but for this article, I wanted to make clear that in my choice for spending money, the wife and I simply pay attention to the ads, and buy what’s on sale. We are not impressed with ‘offer valid only with minimum purchase’, by the way - the idiot who thought that up is clueless about the priorities of the shoppers I know. There happens to be a Kroger store just down the street from where I live, so they would seem to own the ‘convenience’ trump card. They have, however, shredded that card, through the practice of advertising and inventory supply so shoddy as to seem to be deliberate lying.

Popsicles. My daughter loves popsicles. And the ad in the paper showed a 10 boxes for $10 offer for the red-white-blue “Firecracker” popsicles of the ‘Popsicle’ brand. Simple enough, eh? But they did not have them at the store which is down from my house. Nor was this the first time that has happened. Or the second. By my count, this is the fourth consecutive time that I have gone to that Kroger store to buy a specific advertsied item, only to find that it was not available. So, since I had promised my daughter we would get those popsicles for er, we went to another Kroger store, about 6 miles further away (so much for ‘convenience’). I should have known what to expect, as I had encountered the same failure to supply the advertised product three times in a row there, as well.

So, it was annoying but not surprising when I could not find the advertsied popsicles at that store, either. The closest red-white-blue popsicles availabe were ‘Bombpops’, at $2.99, basically three times the price, plus the gas for having to go to two stores.

When I went to checkout, I asked the clerk for the manager. She got what turned out to be another clerk, who heard me out and then went to get the real manager on duty - supervisory tip; if you are in a position where you are likely to have to deal with customer comments or complaints, it is simply poor customer service and bad tactics to have the customer speak to any extraneous level of interference. In retrospect, I find it telling that the manager was actually on the floor, passing the clerk’s aisle at the moment when I asked to speak to the manager - she turned and looked at me, then kept walking away - which tells me now that from the beginning, this manager was far mroe intent on ignoring the problem rather than in addressing it.

To shorten the story just a little bit, I got my $2.99 back for the ‘Bombpops’ and was charged $1.00 for a single pack of ‘Firecrackers’ the manager managed to send someone to find somewhere in the back freezer.

No apology not having an advertsied product on the shelves.

No apology for a pattern of such poor inventory.

No apology for her go-to-hell attitude, when a customer needed her to do her job.

You get the idea. I should mention that in the eight collected times where I found the advertsied product not to be on the shelves, I stopped asking after the fourth or fifth time for a clerk to look in the back - they never actually had any in the back (though I could be sure to get the requisite slacker eye-roll for getting them to look), so today was a first of sorts. I received four ‘rain checks’, two of which were honored when the product arrived weeks later, and two which expired before the product ever came in. And contrary to what Kroger will promise, trying to get a rain check renewed is a lost cause. The other four times I was refused a rain check. For the record, Kroger does not encourage customers to complain. It seems to me that the manager with whom I spoke is very much in line with the Kroger Philosophy - ignore complaints and they will go away. Actually, from the smaller share of customers I seem to see there, it would seem more like 'ignore your customers, and they will go away'. And I certainly shall be going to other stores. There is, after all, no sense in spending time and effort to go to a store which won’t bother to carry the items they advertise.

I am not saying anyone else should botcott Kroger; if you find the service and selection good at a Kroger’s near you, why should you punish that location? But it sure seems to me, that one problem we have here which should be addressed, whether at grocery stores or in politics, is that far too many people are willing to promise something they have no intention of providing. That is stupid and wrong, to put it bluntly, but it is a lesson which has yet to be learned.


smh10 said...


This is sure an issue to which I think we call can relate.

Grocery stores like so many other businesses today understand the time constraints on many families and I believe they no longer feel obligated to provide not only advertised product but customer service.

Certainly I would not say that "all" food stores fall in to this category, however, it has become too easy to blame the "distributor" or the "trucking company" for products not available.

Glad you got those popsicles though, the worst thing is something a parent promises to a child that cannot be produced. Been there, done doing it again but this time with the grandkids.

Thanks for this article, nice to know we are all in the same boat.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't be surprised if they look after their own interests first.

They left the state of Pennsylvania because of a snit with the union they dealt with, that had opted to strike rather than negotiate.

Mind you, I never liked that particular union to begin with, having personally dealt with with them twice in my life. But if they chose to "take their ball and go home", I cannot see them ever doing anything that makes sense.


Cynical Observer said...

DJ, looks like you ran smack-dab into a variation of the old "Bait-and-Switch" retail tactic. Auto dealers do exactly what you encountered all the time, with impugnity, even though it's supposed to be against the law.

But in general, I think we've all been victims of retail managers not understanding two key concepts: "value added" and "managing customer expectations." Far too many retail stores, for example, don't understand that in exchange for charging prices above wholesale, they have an obligation to provide some degree - consistent with their mark-up - of added value in terms of service, etc. Advertising is the key element of their "managing customer expectations" and I find that most businesses and stores do a really lousy job of it.

But how all this translates to politics, and it does translate, is a bit tricky. We all need to be reminded from time to time that any politician we elect is supposed to represent our interests as opposed to deliver on specific promises, i.e., no politician has the power to control the political climate, world events, etc., that can, in some instances, change priorities or even the value of promises. Thus, any politician who campaigns on specific promises, instead of general promises, is not being honest with his/her electors, and is not "managing customer expectations." But if he/she does make specific promises, then he/she owes the "customers" (his/her constituency) an explanation for the change.

The "value added" part is even trickier. But I submit that in the political world "value added" is equivalent to the politician's promise to faithfully look after his/her "customer's" interests, and do all in his/her power to steer the right course in an ever-changing scenario of politics, world events, etc. Else we might as well just send robots to Washington; they'd sure be cheaper, and more reliable.

Conservachef said...

I haven't had that problem with grocery stores here, but I have seen far too often, the uncaring staff/manager at restaurants.

We were seated in the "next-to-smoking" section which didn't suit us, so we asked to be moved, and were. We proceeded to wait thirty minutes for anyone to acknowledge our presence. Servers would walk by, look me in the eye, and keep going. We sat and watched the manager sitting at another table, shooting the breeze with other customers.

It is very frustrating to be on the wrong end of bad management...