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‘I swoosh, therefore I am…

the World’s Expert on Listerine.’

This is what I said on Sunday.  In public.

Supermarkets are funny things, they bring out the worst in me.  I only EVER pick up a wire basket because I will not be in there long enough to fill a trolley.  I have written about such things before.  This habit was all very well when it was me and two dogs.  Now there are children.  They grow and wish to grow more.  This requirement demands an unceasing quantity of food and much frequenting of aisles of the supermarket variety.  I try to go to smaller shops when possible, I like the Co-op wine section, but the food is a bit of a worry.  They don’t have wire baskets there either, instead they have giant black crate things for customers to lug round.  I constantly pick up two stuck together, without noticing, and then nearly die of shock by the bread when the bottom one in the stack falls to the ground with a great clattering thud.  So, although I prefer the Co-op on principle, I don’t actually shop there much.

Sainsburys is the nearest (well not as near as the M&S BP) so I do end up there more than I want.   It’s very expensive and, lately, the merchandising has been shoddy.  It was the case of the Listerine at the weekend that tipped me over the edge.  Basically, because when I come to think of a form of words to explain myself it all sounds very boring, I picked up Listerine marked on the shelf as 50% off – so £2 something instead of £5 something.  This was a proper discount, not one of those fake ones supermarkets go in for. Reader, it went in the basket.  At the till?  5 quid and more.

I was going to let it go.  It’s not the first time I’ve been caught out by the store putting items in the wrong place, over a bogus offer.  You need a law degree and a good pair of glasses to read the small print sometimes.  However, it was pouring with rain and I was on foot.  I thought I’d kill some time by pointing out the mistake to customer services, but prior to that I’d check the offer again.  It’s at this point that you realise you have a problem, isn’t it?  But, I reasoned, it was not about the money, it was the principle and I thought, at least I could save the next Listerine-swilling shopper a shock at the till.

I retraced my steps to the shelves.  It’s at this point I now realise you need a photo of the product placement.  I don’t have one.  Supermarkets don’t like you taking photos in their stores.  You may not know this, but Listerine mouth wash comes in many colours and sizes all with multifarious magical properties that will guarantee glossy gnashers and gums until your ticker throws in the towel, or whatever.  They’ve got absinthe green and pale green, blue, yellow, purple, silvery, red, orange.  I swear, Listerine comes in every colour of the rainbow and more besides.  So the shelf merchandisers just lob it all on, shuffle the price tags around into a vague approximation of the actual price on the system and bugger off home.  A bit like this.

This is by no means the full product range


My problem was that the Total Cavity Guard Listerine in Sainsburys was not only over the wrong price label, there was no right  label at all.   And it was this that I pointed out on Sunday.  The customer service assistant didn’t seem to think that this was a very big deal, or that customers were terribly interesting or intelligent or that service really was her thang.  The combination of her ill-chosen words, and nonchalant non-verbal communication drove me to make the outrageous World’s Expert on Listerine claim.  I also told her I would be back the following day to check that this was sorted out.  (Of course I forgot to because, actually, I am not really a crazy middle-aged old cow with nothing better to do than hector supermarket workers about fucking dental hygiene products on a Monday. )   The assistant eventually offered to refund my money to the ‘advertised price’ but I seized what I liked to think of as the moral high ground and refused.  It’s not the money… it’s the principle, I opined.  What a twat  I can be.  Anyway, it had stopped raining by then, so I walked home.  But I was not so secretly a little bit pissed off, with the attitude and the sloppy merchandising and the general trickery perpetrated on unwitting customers  that they go in for in that bloody shop.

The post script to this is that I was back in there yesterday and  I couldn’t resist checking the Listerine shelves.  This time, all  the products were priced, up but the offending item of Sunday was still placed over the wrong price tag – you’d still be picking it up expecting to pay two quid summat and be hit for over a fiver at the till.  Still, it was an improvement, at least the correct price tag was there, just in the wrong place.  I could have just swapped all the merchandise around, but I didn’t.  I trekked back to the customer service desk and then, assuming my World’s Expert role once more, took them to the shelves and pointed it out, again.  The original customer service bod from the weekend recognised me and dived for deep cover.  Another lady accompanied me to the display and very solemnly swapped the Listerine bottles into their correct places on the shelves.  I told her I would be keeping an eye on this…

It’s official: I have gone mad.

Pile it high

Sainsbury’s has reported a 10% increase in profits in December 2010, meaning they did better in the battle for flogging Yuletide crap to the consumer than their nearest supermarket rivals.

About an hour ago, Justin King, CEO of Sainsbury’s, explained the record Christmas profits thus:

“Our business was one which wasn’t focused on giving customers what they wanted.”

Don’t panic – it’s all sorted now. What you wanted (in case you didn’t know) in December was to buy Christmas gifts whilst buying yer basic provisions.

That’s thoughtful isn’t it? Supermarket gifts for your nearest and dearest. Perhaps, rather than Mr King’s assertion that customers were helpless in the face of their fantastic Christmas gift offer, customers just grabbed the nearest thing once they were in a shop, any shop, because of the snow disruption.

It’s my assumption that Sainsbury’s were doing rather nicely when their business wasn’t giving us what we wanted (slackers); now they know what we want, we’d better watch out.

Further notes from The Reluctant Consumer

That’s me. If I was going to start another blog it would be called that. I have previously blogged a bit about being fleeced by the utilitymen whilst I sit innocently on the sofa and, probably like you, find that facet of my helpless consuming continues unabated. If only that were all. I am also forced out and about from time to time to confront the coalface of consumption, otherwise known as: a shop.

I am not big on shops. I have worked in a few and I was not big on customers when I was behind the till either. Being not big on shops, or indeed the verb related to them, I have to go in them far more frequently than you might think. My tolerance levels are so low (on the floor in fact) that I can only bear to shoot in and out with a hand basket. The spoils this garners clearly does not feed a family of four for a week, so I am back in, usually the following day on a repeat mission. My fickle nature additionally sees me tarting round a smorgasbord of purveyors of foodstuffs and other consumables, wherein I refuse to join their loyalty reward programmes. This because I know these doing you a favour, fool schemes are also aka collecting intimate information on you and your dependants. I remain, in my mind, under their radar.

To maintain this elusive status I like to work the aisles haphazardly, doubling back on myself, charging up and then down and then up the central aisles. I start with bakery and work back to the veg. I go in and buy coffee and than wend my way back to the carrot soup. I am a smash, swerve and grab shopper.

Except sometimes. Those are the days when I am on a go slow. On those days my trusty psychological armour against supermarket trickery slips and lets in a chink of their consumer manipulation and then I find I can’t escape. I may look like I am frozen in time, staring at a product for far too long, but what I am doing is trying not to fall for their tricks. This kind of torture usually coincides with having over-indulged the night before. The other weekend I got trapped in this manner in Sainsburys. In a state of confusion and overwhelm (I’ve made it a noun now – that’s what happens if you spend too long in a supermarket) I could have easily sat down in aisle 12 and cried. You see, in that staring moment, I am fighting a losing battle. I have blundered into their House of Mirrors without knowing what I want and I am consequently highly susceptible to their BOGOFs , their 3 for 2s, their fake alcohol discounts (hair of the dog obviously) and their random rubbish near the tills like £3 DVDs. The crazy staring is merely evidence of my internal effort to fight the good fight and only spend a tenner instead of the practically obligatory redback.

Don’t suggest online grocery shopping either. Booking a delivery slot is too traumatic (amongst other things). The page doesn’t refresh in real time and the van icon that you had set your heart on vanishes into thin air when you want to commit your Wednesday evening to an evenings all-weather racing and waiting in for your baked beans to arrive.

Anyway, last Sunday, because I was trapped in a supermarket for a very long time, trying to decide on dinner, the store announcer permeated my brain. You really notice these announcements in Sainsburys because there is no piped tuneage. If you like a bit of music whilst you shop, go to the Co-op or Asda (although there’s nothing edible in the latter they do have their own radio station). Returning to Sunday in the Supermarket (it’s not Smollenskys on the Strand is it?), this is what I heard (more or less):

Would all suitably trained staff please go to checkouts to support your colleagues?

It wasn’t a command, it was bit more of a plea. I knew the staff member that I had seen with the pink feather duster dusting the crap off the crap on the central aisle, near the seasonal shit, opposite dairy where only the lactose intolerant won’t venture, wouldn’t be going to support anyone. She clearly had only received training (mandatory) in the ways of the duster. Neither would the Customer Service lady in the extraordinary wig be going either. She never, ever leaves her domain where people queue to ask dopey questions about their Nectar points and to return stuff they never needed in the first place.

Was there a stampede of other Sainsburys staff to the checkouts? There was not. And when I arrived there, with my trolley (no energy to carry a basket) I did not find half-fainting checkout operators in need of urgent support either. I just found the usual Sunday scene: a load of other hungover people queuing to buy sustenance and some rubbish DVDs and the papers. And in a neat twist, my till operator delayed my alcoholic transaction, not to check I was over 21, but because she needed someone to check her selling thereof because she was… Let’s hope this management style doesn’t find it’s way into the armed forces.

Would all suitably trained soldiers please head to the front in Afghanistan to support their colleagues. Unless, of course, you are busy cleaning your musket. And if you are under 21 can you bring someone else along to authorise your shooting people and people shooting you back.

I find I am increasingly irritated with the cost of that campaign, or war or whatever it is. We just can’t afford it can we? Not when a bunch of crap on a Sainsburys Sunday costs fifty sodding quid.

There’s more, but I think you’ve been trapped in these aisles long enough.