skew * three *  february '95

The Sections The not-so-super market
by Eric Schmoyer

I've lived in a lot of places and seen a lot of the world, and I think that I've been to more than my fair share of grocery stores. I just recently came away from a shopping excursion thoroughly frustrated, and I wasn't exactly sure why. I mulled it over, and I finally realized that it was the whole supermarket experience.

First of all, each supermarket is organized in some unique fashion. Variety is great; I draw the line, though, when looking for my favorite brand becomes an expedition. Call me a geek, but I'd love some type of database. Honestly, let's say you go to a new store and you want Nile River instant soup. In which section is it most likely to be found: the deli, the canned soup, the pasta, or the "ethnic food"? (Hint: it's got couscous in it.) Well, I've seen it in all of those places. What I want is a little list, or maybe a touch screen kiosk, that I can use to look up a product and find its aisle, and perhaps even if it is on the left or right side. I'd be ecstatic if it could say "Aisle 12, Left side, Section 4." Someday I'd love to hear the methodology for item location (other than the whim of a slumbering third shift stock person, or whatever the politically correct term is for stockboy).


On an unrelated note, what is this "ethnic food" section anyway? I've never seen an American food section in a German supermarket. I guess supermarkets abroad don't think of Americans as an ethnic group. Hmmm.

Why are there three sections - the deli, somewhere near the deli, and next to the milk (usually on the opposite side of the store from the other two) - for cheeses and lunch meat? Why not put the milk next to the deli so that you can do all your cheese and dairy shopping in one large area? Maybe I'm the only person in the world who gets non-refrigerated items first and refrigeration-dependent things last.

What is the American fascination with breakfast cereal? There are more varieties of breakfast cereal than of any other food I know. How many ways can a human possibly need to have corn, oats, wheat, or rice re-packaged? I guess Power Ranger(tm) vegetable soup or Ninja Turtle(tm) spaghetti sauces just aren't as appealing to the American shopper.

I like price breakdowns. All supermarkets should have them. You'd be surprised to discover that the Mega-Huge jar isn't always cheaper than the itty-bitty trial size. After aisle 14 or so, I'm tired, and dividing $1.30 by 14 oz. vs. 2.65 by 2 lb. gets to me. At least listing the metric equivalents would be nice. Please note, I live in an area where you can get stoned for saying that the metric system is better than whatever this American standard thing is called. I'll leave the move-to-metric diatribe for another day; my bruises are still healing.

One of the better supermarkets I have visited is located in Grenoble, France. It is called Carfourre and is titled a hypermarket. Even though I didn't speak French all that well, using just the aisle labels, I could find just about everything I needed. Actually, I never found tortillas, but that was because they didn't have any; I guess the wine-in-a-box section just took up too much space. Don't be misled - this place was BIG. It had about 80 check-out counters, not 10 or so, like your local Acme or A & P.

Okay, so enough ranting, and now a little asking. All you supermarket owners listen up out there. Enough of this loooong aisle stuff. Break the aisles up into two or three sections and place things together logically. Make sure the aisles are wide enough for *three* shopping carts to fit in side by side. If you don't know why, go shopping on a Friday afternoon. Also, just in case I still can't find things, give me a directory or index or something. When I ask for "Veggies-Fresh-Yucca", the directory should yield, "They are in section 12, between yams and red potatoes." If you need a Gee-Whiz kiosk, I know some people who do great things with a touch screen and a Macintosh.

Veggies, Veggies, Veggies! Yes, there are people who eat them, especially things like plantains, star fruit, avocados (the big ones), Bok Choy, pomegranate, etc. I used to brave the chaos of Boston's Haymarket for such a variety.

All prices should be in the form of "Human-size jar of food: $2 ($.33 per ounce)." Most supermarkets are good about this.

Please, please, please, enforce the 10-items-or-less rule at the express lines.

Get someone to fix all the shopping carts with sticky, squeaky, or otherwise less-than-optimal wheels. While you're at it, re-design the shopping carts so that I can have one or two extra areas, besides the child seat, in which to place things that shouldn't be squished. If I had to use the child seat for a child, I'd eat bruised veggies and flat bread all the time. Now that only happens when I stock up for more than two weeks, or the bagging person is asleep.

Tell AT&T to get with the program and start delivering on that checking out a whole shopping cart at a time business. Hey, all you "You Will" guys listening out there at, I'm serious. ( If anyone cares, the video is here, but it's a 3 MB MPEG and pretty dull. )

Get rid of the blinking instant coupon dispensers; if you want to give 50 cents off, take 50 cents off the price. Please, don't kill any more trees or cause epileptic fits with the red blinking lights.

This isn't really the supermarket's fault, but it bugs me every time I'm waiting in line with two or three things behind the person with 23 items in the 8-or-less express lane. Can someone please teach someone on staff at the National Inquirer or the Daily Sun, and other Gossip Tabloids, to at least *open* Photoshop? They don't have to use scissors to retouch photos any more. Really.
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