The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Why is Albertson's so intent on alienating its customers and destroying its business?

I spent half an hour yesterday in the Albertson's on Woodside Road in Redwood City, and was reminded why I dislike that chain and never shop there if I can help it. Albertson's is a largish, medium-to-low quality store -- you might buy produce or baked goods there, but wouldn't go out of your way to do so. These stores employ about half as many checkout clerks as they need. I am always standing in line at Albertson's.

Lately Albertson's has been advertising that they open new lanes whenever there is a line of more than three. This rule was being followed, more or less, but it did not cut down on my waiting time, because there was no express checkout lane! So my wife and I waited with our basket of half a dozen bags of vegetables behind people with packed shopping carts.

Did I mention that Albertson's has TV monitors that play commercials at you while you wait? And that there are about four ads that repeat over and over?

There is another option, which is the self-checkout line. This sounds
reasonable in theory -- Evan Kirchhoff has stated that "ten years from now ... there will be no such thing as a human bagger or checkout clerk in any discount store." -- but it's 2006, not 2016, and I can never get the damn
things to work. I can't imagine that they support produce -- are the customers really supposed to look up a four-digit-code to describe each item -- and they explicitly forbid alcohol purchases in order to protect our nation's youth.

Albertson's is following the same path into irrelevancy and bankruptcy as that taken by K-Mart, Target, and Sears over the last two decades. Remember what it was like to shop at Target 10 years ago? The stores were dingy, and while not exactly dirty were miles from being clean. They stocked cheap crap that you only bought because you had to.

K-Mart is close to dead, and Sears is probably one step behind them, but Target has resurrected their fortunes and is now the discount store of choice. And they did this by acting like they cared about their customers, by making their stores attractive and well lit, by designing goods that, while still cheap, are at least striking and catchy.

Albertson's is in a very dangerous position; its prices are not so cheap that people will put up with any indignities its management can dream up. And there's no reason other than price to go there. After the fifth repetition of the idiot "We're California!" commercial, the infuriated shopper is going to calculate that he can spent the same amount of money once a month at Costco -- saving real cash in exchange for long lines and zero service -- and buying other groceries at a place like Piazza's that will treat you like a human being. The Albertson's in Mountain View at California and San Antonia is cleaning out its inventory in preparation for shutting its doors, and I hear that an Albertson's in Fremont has closed as well.



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