The Old Coot turns in his wool coat

It’s time for a new game plan! A new “Grocery Store” game plan! They’ve been herding us through their aisles like sheep for decades. Milk is in one corner of the store, and the bread as far away as they can get it. They try to entice us with goods along the route when we come in for a quick bread and milk run, the most common, dash-in-and-out, customer-shopping errand. At least for nuclear families with a couple of kids. 

The bread supply used to be critical; you had to have it so your kid’s lunch could be packed for school. Nowadays, most kids eat school cafeteria food; my generation abhorred it. Even so, people still go on milk and bread runs.  

We’ve all suffered with it. You rush into a big-chain grocery store for milk and bread on your way home from work. Where’s the bread? – As far from the milk as you can get! Some “brilliant” marketing genius (I need to tread lightly here – I was a marketing guy at one time, but I was cured of the affliction) came up with this bread-milk placement plan. It’s a profit-based strategy, not a customer service strategy.

And it works, to a degree. But for the most part, it annoys us. It’s been going on so long we take it for granted and put on our running shoes. Is it merchant bullying? It feels that way to me! 

Big-chain grocery stores aren’t the only ones that do it; how about running into a big-chain pharmacy to pick up a prescription? You have to go to the very back of the store, past the chips, the cereal boxes, the ice-cream cooler, the office supplies, the garden shop to get your prescription. Then we’re made to get in line behind a mark on the floor to comply with privacy regulations. But, we’re still within earshot and we make sure to listen when the customer talks to the pharmacist. 

It should be no surprise that grocery stores and pharmacies employ the same tactics. They are basically the same entity, selling both food and drugs. As they continue to add products, merchandising will go full circle, back to the old general store. 

Except, there won’t be a warm glow from a potbellied stove with a cluster of old coots like me sitting around it in winter or out front in summer, perched on empty crates next to the fruit and vegetable racks. Milk wasn’t in the back of the store in those days; it was placed in the milk box on your front porch, waiting for you when you came down for breakfast.

How do we stop this debacle? I don’t know; it’s so ingrained in the store design philosophy it seems impossible to fix. I do the best I can; I get bread first, pick up a few extra loaves and leave them over by the milk cooler so someone who starts there can avoid a trip to the other side of the store. 

The geniuses in the corporate office haven’t figured out that the key to profitability is to focus on the customer, making the shopping experience hassle free, not some strategy that tries to trick us into an impulse buy. They think they can treat us like sheep? Will this ram ain’t saying, “Baa, Baa,” any more.  

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