Blow it up and start again

I go to a supermarket about once a month. Just to get cleaning products, garbage bags, that kind of thing. We buy our fruit and veg from a fruit and veg shop. We get our meat form a butcher. Bread from a baker. I know that a lot of other people go to supermarkets more often for their bread and meat and veg.  Supermarkets are doing very well thank you out of the GFC as Australians take a little more notice of what they are spending on food and household stuff. So I’m not claiming that the supermarket is dead. But man, I wish they were better.

So this Sunday we stopped in at our local supermarket – we needed some toothpaste and tooth brushes and other bits and pieces. And even though we’d done our fruit and veg shopping that day, I had a sudden urge for Mexican style beans and salad for dinner.  So we needed a tomato and some lettuce.  

The drama started at the “oral hygiene” section. Tooth paste was relatively easy – sort of. We grabbed one, then realised it was a whitening one and spent a little bit of time just looking for the normal tube.  But trying to find a normal, small head, non-fluoro brush was impossible. I stood there trying to make sense of the selection –  there are definitely cues toothbrush designers are taking from the sex toy market (vibrating / battery operated / ribbed grip etc – not in my mouth thanks).  And then there are the bristles – none of them point the same way, are of the same length, made of the same material. There are no small head tooth brushes (sorry, I come from the school of thought that a massive head of a tooth brush cannot clean your teeth in the same way that a small one can – they just can’t get into the same places.  And I know when I go to the dentist the toothbrush sample she gives me is a small head one – and she should know what’s good). I am mourning at this stage my electric toothbrush – a nice Oral B number that I think got bashed about from too much travelling and just gave up the ghost about a month ago. I am getting another one.  So in the end, tucked in the back corner I found a toothbrush with a small head and a plain handle. Finally, despite the fact I had to enter into the “sensitive teeth” sub-category it was 90% right, so took it.  In the mean time, a woman stood next to me and did exactly the same thing. She was holding her small son, and kept sighing “There are too many – I have no idea which one to get.” We laughed at each other when we realised we were doing exactly the same thign. I wonder how many other times this scenario happened on that Sunday alone?

After a similar situation in front of the yoghurt section which I will not bore you with (apart from saying – there has to be other people out there who do not what “lite” yoghurt), we remembered to grab the lettuce and tomatoes – dear god. Living proof as to why there is still a healthy fruit and veg business  in this country. Why fruit and veg shops like Harris Farm keep growing. I have  never seen such dire, saggy, disgusting, inedible, vegetable-like things masquerading as items for sale before in my life.  Everything was in shiny plastic bags – making sure everything had this ugly slimy sweat.  

So just to go in and pick up a few things was such a horrible experience.  And whose fault is it?

1) the toothbrush fiasco is the manufactures fault. In order to drive growth they keep making more and more and more. Instead, all you are doing is driving me crazy. You are not giving me what I want.  I will not buy more toothbrushes because they vibrate. I will not buy more toothbrushes because they come in a “fun fluoro” 6 pack (I do not need to brush my teeth in the dark). This is a category (like so many others) that needs to be blown up and then start it again. From scratch.

2) The Fruit and Veg – no matter how many ads that say you are fresh food people (that’s both of you, not just the one with that slogan), to me you are “sweaty, slimy” food people. Your fruit and veg is pretty much the same price as the fruit and veg guy outside your store or across the road, and they are 100 times better. You also need to blow up your department and start again with your buying and storing ans while you are at it – get rid of the shiny over packaging.

 I am so glad that I don’t have to  go back there for another month or so.



Filed under retail

5 responses to “Blow it up and start again

  1. There’s a great line in the Tortilla Curtain where a Mexican immigrant goes into an American grocery store. He’s overwhelmed by the size of it just walking in, and then can’t figure out what to buy as he can’t touch the vegetables or smell anything – everything is so sanitised, packaged, and been in cold storage for so long.

    It’s kind of how I feel at Woolies or Coles. You can’t smell the herbs or fruit, it all just smells of nothing.

  2. kelpenhagen

    I’ve read that book but I can’t remember the scene – But yes – spot on

  3. Funniest analogy I’ve read re proliferation of product choice. It’s amazing how the fight for shelf space has lead to such inane variations on simple products. But it works…

  4. Loved it!

    First regarding the proliferation of products – (e.g toothbrushes) – a good brand like Orel B can save time for a stressed out consumer. I like how you identified with them.

    No matter what the question – what toothbrush or potato chip to buy – no one can evaluate the benefits of 30 different products on their individual merits. Too overwhelming – as you discovered. We crawl back into our shell and buy the same chips that Mom bought for us.

    Regarding the product design overkill – we in the USA face similar issue. I bought 8 new razor blades today – Gillette Fusion blades. Each individual razor blade is comprised of 5 individual blades – it has a lubricated strip on the top to ease the shaving process. It has a single razor on the rear for beard and side burn trimming. The package cannot be opened without a knife or scissors.

    My razor is lubricated, vibrates, has a battery in it, as the “vibration” of the razor is supposed to improve the shave. All it lacks is a USB port, or maybe a data recorder to monitor the smoothness of the shave and recommend when the blade should be replaced.

    The blades are so expensive that they are dispensed via a “timed” device in the drug store so you can’t grab 10 of them at a time and stick ’em under your jacket. You pull a red lever and its like a nuclear launch… 30 seconds later the blades drop out of the dispenser. A bell notifies the clerk that you just hit the jackpot, like you are in Vegas or something.

    The 8 blades cost $28 US. I went up to the counter and paid for them, and I asked the 60ish woman behind the counter, “Did you ever envision the day that a pack of razor blades would cost $28?” She just laughed.


  5. kelpenhagen

    Matt – that is hysterical! Yes, I really learnt the power and proliferation of choice when I had a year in the states. It’s fantastic there is such a range of choice, but there is a line that appears to have been crossed. I wonder if it’s also due to the last five years being all about “innovate or die” – This has been at the manufactuer’s peril. Most new product “variations” really fail to grow share or category to any significance.
    I will always chose the option that is simple, clear and brings me real value (not novelty, or diffusion). I have worked with clients in the past where innovation has been driven out of the R&D lab – “hey, we can make this stuff, that’s pretty cool” and then get the marketing teams to try and retro-fit a consumer need. Sometimes people love the idea, but for the majority it’s been a force fit. Consumer’s though have a habit of saying they want “more choice” – but this shouldn’t be taken literally. What they want is clear choices, not MORE choice…

    Ben – glad you liked the analogy! You can add it to your “sex files” 😉

    I’m not sure though it has worked for most of the SKU proliferations (well, here anyhow) – most haven;t been aligned to a clear consumer need. What they do do here though is keep the retailers sweet by bringing “innovation” to the category, and ensuring shelf space. But as for really driving category value or growth, not sure unlimited choice does work…

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