Why Does Going To The Supermarket Still Suck?

In light of A&P's bankruptcy, we highlight ways the industry can be more efficient.

(Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock)

(Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock)

The announced bankruptcy of A&P doesn’t surprise me. I’ve watched the supermarket chain decline over the years and I’m sorry for the 28,000 employees who are the victims of its poor management in the face of much better run stores like Wegmans. But, as great as Wegmans is, it still sucks doing the food shopping, doesn’t it? As a business owner, I can’t help but see many inefficiencies and places for improvement. Every time I shop, the same questions keep popping up in my mind. For example…

Why can’t I just scan the item when I put it in my cart?

Going to the supermarket still remains the second-most unproductive of all human activities (the first is wasting six hours reading Go Set A Watchman.) Think about it. We walk around the store, filling up a cart with stuff. Then we take the stuff out of the cart and put it on a counter so it can be scanned. Then we put the stuff into bags and then put the bags back into the cart which we then wheel to the car. We then take the bags out of the cart and put them into the car and then we take the bags out of the car into our house where we again unload everything. Madness!

Can we not eliminate at least one big step? We all have smartphones. There’s no bar coding or QR Code app that will allow us to just scan the item at same time we pull it off the shelf? And can that same software pull off the herculean task of deciphering the prices for me? I swear, I still can’t figure out if a package of the Charmin Ultra Strong Toilet Paper 12 Mega Plus Rolls is a better value than the Cottonelle Clean Care Toilet Paper 18 Double Rolls. Supermarket chains in the UK are doing this. We’re not?

Why can’t coupons be delivered to me when I walk in the store? Supposedly, “beacon technology” will soon be taking over retail. And I can’t wait! My iPhone has iBeacon and Android phones have Bluetooth Low Energy, both technologies that can receive information beamed to them from mini-transmitters around a store — like coupons, special offers, rewards and discounts based on my prior purchases or product interests. That way I can stop with the 1950’s practice of cutting out coupons from my Sunday paper (or painstakingly printing them from online offers) and presenting to them to the cashier while simultaneously annoying everyone else in the checkout line behind me. Look, I’m a cheapskate, OK? I can’t be the only one waiting for beacon technology to make my coupon experience more productive … and a little less humiliating.

Where are the Goddamn Mallomars?

They appear. They disappear. And sometimes for months. What the hell is going on here? Why can’t I find certain products?

Why can’t I just pay without standing in line?

Is anyone using Apple Pay? Or Google Wallet? Go ahead – I dare you to try and pay for your supermarket order next time with one of these mobile apps and see the reaction you get. You’ll have better luck paying with Greek Drachmas. When will these services actually enable me to pay for my items at the same time that I’ve barcoded and bagged them in the aisle? Why am I still standing in line at the checkout counter when this technology exists right now? Worried about me shoplifting something? Meh – get over yourself, I haven’t shoplifted anything in months. But if you’re still concerned, then put a guard by the door who randomly checks customers like they do at big box stores like Costco and BJ’s.

Is it possible to have an actual system at the deli counter for ordering? Isn’t there a more efficient way to get people their turkey breast and salami like an electronic check in system to handle this tired old process? I just Googled “iPad check-in app” and found dozens of examples.

I have more questions.  Like why is it that every time I use the self-checkout kiosks I have to get a store employee involved because the machine doesn’t believe that I put the item in the bag? Why aren’t there more chairs dotted around the supermarket so that tired shoppers can sit and read the paper Why can’t I just pop into a Wegmans and buy a freaking bottle of wine like I can do at any 7-11 in any place in the country except for this backward state with its socialist form of liquor distribution? Why can’t I just order all my stuff in advance, like I do at a CVS or my pizza shop, and then just pick it up later for a small extra fee? And why are there so many apricots for sale? Everywhere I look I see apricots. Who’s eating all these apricots?

Gene Marks is a guest columnist for BizPhilly. He’s written for publications like the New York Times, Forbes and the Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter. All opinions expressed in this column are his own.

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