Dear Aldi, please reduce my Public Grocery Shame #PGS
It is with great pleasure and deep concern that I write this letter to you. I have always enjoyed shopping at your stores, particularly because of the lean thinking behind the system of supply of which you pride yourselves upon.
Due to an unfortunate series of events at an Aldi checkout this evening, I have unfortunately and rather unnecessary, experienced Public Grocery Shame #PGS.
Admiringly you have shaped your grocery checkout process to a point of efficiency and effectiveness for shoppers and to appropriately minimise operational margins. Inspired by the productivity logic I do take it upon myself to also consider what is the balance of efficiency and effectiveness in how I conduct myself and organise my goods through your queueing and checkout system.
As such on this evening, not unlike any other evening at Aldi we joined a check-out queue and patiently waited our turn to place goods on the conveyor belt. Now, it is important to note that unlike other stores Aldi has no service assistant at the point of checkout bag and trolley placement. It is entirely dependent upon the customer to complete the goods ‘grab and place step’ into the trolley or basket. This places a high ‘social expectation’ upon customers; the more customers in the queue the more intense the expectation on the transacting customer to complete their duties quickly. This ‘social expectation’ is conveyed through slit eyes, not so subtle stares and sighs.
I personally find public shaming quite uncomfortable. Combine this with an organisational logic to inspire Deming, I intentionally pre-organise all my groceries on the conveyor belt so that an optimal flow of goods through the check-out is done to affect the output flow of goods into their appropriate bags; for example, cold items for the cold bag and normal groceries for the normal bag.
Unlike other evenings I had failed to bring the proper trolley coin and was dependent upon my partner to hold the required bag (cool or not) at an equal level to the checkout counter so that I could ‘grab and place’ goods without any wasted movement. For example; placing a bag on the checkout shelf and needing to ‘grab then lift, then place’ adds a second per item. Any extra minute of ‘social expectation stares’ is unacceptable.
Having one bag holder and one ‘grab and placer’ also put a higher importance upon the sequencing of goods on the conveyor belt to be maintained and not mixed up as we have to switch bags to accommodate the change in goods. If we did not prepare appropriately than the goods pile up and the checkout attendant stockpiles or starts to push things nearer to falling. This too is also unacceptable.
Stockpiling also has unfortunate consequences that decrease the value of the items purchased and therefore my admiration of the system as a whole; one simply does not put cans upon mangos. They have travelled well over a few thousand kilometres preserved beautifully so it is most unfortunate to see one dented by a can of beans.
None the less, this evenings series of events went like this;
- SORT GOODS ON BELT
- Colds bag first
- larger surface area first; eg; sliced meats are perfect first as they are air-tight contained and almost the exact dimensions of the receiving cold bag; thereby, taking the distributed weight of following items evenly and preventing food damage.
- packaged meats second. The length is half the width of the bag so two can fit side by side. Again they are mostly air packed and thereby receive minimal damage from following goods
- organically or uneven cold items are placed last in a cold bag. Now as a regular weekly shopper of Aldi the instinct to grab and place to maximise the space within the bag - and to still zip it close - happens quite naturally. Although I do recommend placing ‘container’ items to the corners and softer items to the centre; such as Nuttelex vs. the soft goat cheese.
- Grocery items bag second
- harder and larger items sequenced first. It’s important not to get too caught up in the sequence of harder vs. larger as not all shops have homogenous goods, and not all goods have homogenous sizing and weight. Allowing for variability is not only experimental it also gives me some entertainment while I wait in the queue. I know this is not common queueing behaviour, however, the point is that harder items first minimise subsequent damage and larger optimise weight distribution and volume use throughout a shopping bag.
- softer and grocery items second so as to minimise damage and sustain the optimum value for the price point as expected when you pick a grocery item.
- Optional considerations - optimise for home. When doing a large shop sequencing items according to product type so as to minimise unpacking time at home. this is optional for this evenings series of events and was thought of while waiting in the queue but discarded as not necessary tonight.
- Colds bag first
- PRIOR SHOPPER DELAYED
- The EFTPOS machine required a reset.
- The checkout attendant said it takes a minute; it was definitely a minute. The Public Grocery Shame meter may have opinionated it to be higher however the attendant was accurate.
- As we all waited for the EFTPOS machine to reset itself the tension ‘to do’ something increased.
- The attendant thought that by turning the conveyor belt on and shoving all my sequenced goods into a clogged pile would be beneficial. I dare say he did this because he too was feeling the heat of Public Grocery Shame and ‘had to be seen to be doing something’.
- This is where it all went wrong;
- no one realised the EFTPOS machine reset time was a sunk cost and could not be recovered - unless you’ve invented time travel? That would be so cool if you have.
- As such the attendant re-sequenced the goods without being aware that my goods are completely independent of the EFTPOS machine fault and any sort of juggle juggle would not change that.
- The attendant grabbed whatever, mixed colds with warms, and mangos before cans; he completely lost the opportunity to leverage my preparation and be efficient. Instead, he created confusion and extra work for myself and my very strong bag handling partner.
- This meant we couldn’t glide items into the appropriate bags in the optimal sequence as planned.
- We had to grab and slam and shuffle to adjust for his chaotic ordering
- We took longer to place items than he did to finish to price them
- As he finished before we could remove the second pile he began to stare at us - thereby triggering the entire queue to stare at us more intently and turn up the Public Grocery Shame experience
- I was distressed by the disorder and I stumbled under pressure to get my card for the EFTPOS machine thereby extending the total duration of our checkout time. #PSG
The frustration of other shoppers does not distress me, they are not aware of the system that has created this moment; the software in the EFTPOS machine and the illogical behaviour of the attendant.
The breakdown of the system of flow I find rather distressing and unnecessary; especially by an employee of a company that prides itself on such systems.
I roughly estimate from the 40 items we had, we took 120sec longer to grab and place. Plus another minute to do the EFTPOS. Now to many extending a checkout duration by 3 minutes in one instance may not count for much nor warrant such an extensive letter to you; however, in that moment there were 5 more people behind me. If we each experience a 3-minute delay that adds up to quite a wait experience.
I suggest with complete kindness;
- Please educate your attendants on the importance of;
- sorting and intentional sequencing so as to optimise the flow of transactions.
- Do not ‘stockpile’ before and during transactions as this creates a greater delay in the total duration of processing one customer.
- I suggest teaching ‘just in time’ principles so attendants adjust their transactional processes appropriately to the total sequence of events. (also do not contribute to the #PGS with ‘staring impatiently’.)
- Oh, and best have a chat about sunk costs too
- Please educate your customers with a three-part series of pictures showing people;
- preparing your goods as they wait at the conveyor belt
- solid volume logic - appropriate groceries goods placement in bags
- advising on how best to grab and place.
- Investigate the cause of delays in your EFTPOS machines.
4. Experiment with conveyor channels that guide the good into a single step flow; I hypothesis this will prevent attendant stockpiling.
Either way, I shall return because I do enjoy the system and pricing of Aldi. I shall continue to experiment with discovering flow. I do hope you also continue to improve in this area.
yours - slightly compulsive about finding the optimal checkout experience,