Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Letter to the Co-op

Letter to the Co-op

Monday morning. I drive 8 miles to the Co-operative in Shap. It is the only large food shop in the triangle from Penrith to Kirkby Stephen to Kendal, apart from the delis at the motorway services (yes, delicious, but too expensive to form the basis of everyday life!)

I have my shopping list to hand. It’s cheaper that way. Although I still sometimes forget an item or two I don’t come home with impulse buys that neither of us will actually eat.

Most of what I want is on the shelves. The moisture cream bath has been on offer and its place on the shelf is empty, but that’s OK because the price label’s still there, so it will probably be back soon. More frustrating is the persistent lack of my husband’s two favourite yogurts, of the raspberry or plain Greek varieties. I’ve always been able to buy them at Shap, pace a shortage of raspberries being acceptable in the depths of winter. The Greek yogurt is a Co-op own brand, so when I take my trolley to the newly installed tills, I ask if I can have a polite request: when will it be available?

The assistant behind the till (I won’t give her a name, to spare her embarrassment when this gets to Head Office) makes a glum face.

“I’m really sorry but we get our orders sent to us from Manchester, and we don’t have a say any more in what they send us.”

Despite the fact that it’s lunchtime, there are several empty car parking spaces outside; something that was unheard-of before the revamp.The things that “they” send seem to include upmarket nibbles and chocolates, but not lunchtime sandwiches. A connection, perhaps?

I unload the goods through the rather small space allocated on the counter, and the assistant scans them and moves them across to another small space on the other side of the till, through which I struggle to put them into bags. There’s an annoying sort of shelf thing with gums and other outers, that sticks up and gets in the way of my elbow, so I pat it gently and make a comment, and get another glum face.

“I know. People catch their sleeves on it and drop things. A lady hurt herself on it the other day.”

I survey the shelf thing and offer the observation that, if I worked there, I’d be at it with a screwdriver. She sighs and says she would like to, but it’s as much as her job’s worth to try. “Everything’s cramped. If I’m working at the till you can’t even open this door behind me.” Which, being perspex, I hadn’t noticed till she mentioned it. I sense I’m not the only customer to make comments about a lack of common sense in the refurbishment.

“Haven’t they given you permission to use the island till yet?” That’s behind me, in the middle of a big empty space. All set up with conveyor belt and ready to accept trolleys.Last time I asked – New Year’s Eve – I was told they weren’t allowed to use that till unless they were really busy. Which they were. “I don’t understand why. Does the motor burn too much electricity? Don’t tell me ‘they’ bought you a till with a belt that you can’t control.”

She shakes her head. She doesn’t know why that till is out of bounds.

To be honest, I haven’t seen the staff looking happy since the shop was refurbished. The shelving is nice and the new position of the photocopier makes a lot more sense, but the huge plastic baskets, with the pullout handles and the little granny wheels, are too heavy to carry when full, and too wide to negotiate past other customers even when empty. When you get one to the till, you have to perform endless floor-to-counter lifts with the goods to be scanned, which is not much fun if you have toddlers, a bad back or dodgy hips. And if you do happen to be muscular enough to lift the full basket onto the counter, the assistant can’t reach into the bottom of it without contortion because there is no niche to accommodate it at a reasonable height.

I used to teach computing students about the processes involved in the design of business systems. “They should send someone to observe you working with this. Then they’d realise how frustrating it is for you.”

“Yes, they should.” She looks a little less demoralised. “They'd hear what the customers have to say, too.”

“I’ll put in a complaint for you if you like,” I suggest. This time she reacts as though I’ve offered her water in the desert.

“Go to the web site,” she mutters. “There’ll be somewhere you can do it online.”

So here I am starting my one-woman campaign to improve the efficiency of Shap Co-op, following its “improvement” just before Christmas.

1. Open and use the island trolley till.
2. Replace the “new” counter, its silly perspex door and its obstructive outers shelf.
3. If the big hand baskets are to stay, the counter needs a niche to accommodate them at a convenient height for both customer and assistants.
4. Please stock the foods the customers want, not the ones you think we want.

I hope this makes her day.