As someone who enjoys cooking and trying new foods, I like grocery shopping. Living in four states around the Midwest has given us the opportunity to visit many different grocery stores. Something that is a normal part of the grocery shopping experience in one state or a certain chain might not be at the next. A recent visit to a deli counter brought all of my thoughts on grocery shopping to fruition and helped me identify eight things that grocery stores do that win my love:
1. Freshly Slicing Deli Meat To Order
Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer understands deli meat. In the episode The Slicer, he purchases a slicer for home use and highlights the glories of freshly sliced meat. “Look how thin that is, see, that’s all surface area. The taste has nowhere to hide!” he exclaims as he holds up a paper-thin slice of meat.
The delis that perplex me are the ones that showcase whole deli meats and cheeses, yet reach down and pull out a wad of pre-sliced meat or saran-wrapped cheese after I place my order. Sometimes I literally have no idea from which depths they pulled the meat or cheese and it’s like a terrible deli SURPRISE. Others surround their lunch meat logs with such vast, rippling oceans of pre-sliced meat that no one would have to actually operate the meat slicer during business hours for days.
Usually the pre-sliced meat is thickly cut and shaped into strange curls that are supposed to look attractive but actually make me really not want to eat them.
I like thick slices of Thanksgiving turkey and Easter ham, but thin slice of sandwich meat. Plus, it’s easier to stretch thin slices into more sandwiches. I know the deli meat, pre or freshly sliced, is just going to sit in my fridge for the week, but I can’t help but wonder when that meat was actually sliced and like to pretend the slices have had less time to grow bacteria when sliced on the spot. And, gosh darn, freshly sliced meat just makes me feel better.
2. Keeping Produce Dry
Dry produce lasts longer while damp produce decomposes faster. Anyone who’s ever thrust their arms into a pile of waterlogged kale and fished for the least slimy bunch knows what I’m talking about. Inevitably, I always end up shaking the wet vegetation in a frustrated attempt to rid it of excess water, sending a wide shower of muddy water all over myself and the floor. Dry produce is happy produce and happy produce is for me.
3. Not Making Me Jump Through Hoops For Paper Bags. Grocery stores that offer paper bags without a hassle end their guests’ shopping experiences on positive notes. I admit that I need to remember to shop with my reusable bags more often, but sometimes I forget them or want a paper bag to collect recycling in my kitchen.
I’ve encountered stores that have trained their Sales Associates to begin conversations with, “Is plastic ok?” or automatically pack groceries into plastic bags at lightning speed. I hated finding myself starting conversations with “May I have paper?” but knew that if I didn’t, paper just wasn’t going to happen. Obviously, grocery stores honor customers’ requests for paper bags, but customers might have to be speedy or straightforward to get them.
At one particular store, no matter how quickly I tried to ask for paper, associates always managed to fill at least one plastic bag that needed to be repacked into paper. On some occasions, I really did need that paper bag for recycling day, but on others I simply sighed and said, “Never-mind, that’s OK.” My requests for paper bags are always met with a chipper “sure!” or “of course,” I can sense fear behind those smiles.
What exactly happens to those who freely dispense paper bags at these stores, I may never know, but, to those who do, I offer my thanks.
4. Selling Clearanced Items. I’m fond of grocery stores that offer clearance items, because clearance items are fun! Sometimes it’s a gamble and I end up wasting money on a product that was clearanced because nobody liked it. And other times I find a deal.
At one store in Mason City, I got a kick out of waiting for the super expensive baking mixes to sell for half off, like the Crumbs Bake Shoppe Colossal Cupcake kit. I’ve also found many sensible items on clearance like canned tuna and hot sauces that aren’t anywhere near their expiration date.
5. Treating Customers To Samples. Because who doesn’t love snacks?
6. Providing Small Grocery Carts. Since I grocery shop for two, I don’t often need a big cart, anyway. Small carts make it easier to complete a small grocery shopping trip quickly.
I push a grocery cart like I drive. Nothing drives me nuts like navigating a full-sized grocery cart between aisles and around displays. Not to mention, trying not to crash into the displays while I also struggle not to bump into all of the other people pushing giant carts and strollers. This is why I will literally do everything possible never to push a full-sized grocery cart. I will also do everything possible to never make more than one trip carrying groceries from my car to my house which is why I love that small carts limit how much I buy.
7. Setting Out A Mailbox For Customers. In Iowa, many of the grocery stores’ customer service desks are outfitted with USPS services where you can purchase stamps and mail packages. I loved that I could take care of my mail and grocery shopping in one trip. Although we had a mailbox at home, I often found myself carrying around letters I forgot to mail or stamp. I always appreciate it when stores provide something as simple as mail basket at their customer service desks.
8. Offering Express Lanes Managed By Real People.
I often run to the grocery store to buy a few items or grab that one ingredient that I forgot and appreciate express lanes. Not the self-service check-out lanes, but the express lanes for customers buying 12 items or less actually managed by a human.
Self-service lanes are supposed to be faster, but actually take me longer because I have no idea what I’m doing. One reason why I bumble around trying to find the right produce buttons and codes is that I don’t actually work there. Inevitably, I’ll hit the wrong button or place an object in an area that triggers an alarm and will have to wait for assistance, anyway. If stores offered even a small discount to customers who scanned, weighed, bagged, and processed payments for their own groceries, customers might use them with less hesitation.
How does a grocery store earn your loyalty or push you into the loving aisles of another?