Thursday 6 April 2017

This sceptic's aisle

Don’t you just love reports and surveys which seem to bear no similarity to your own experience?

We have just been told that there are high levels of customer satisfaction in the retail experience of buying wine in a supermarket. That customers are happily “lingering” in the wine aisle. And that we find shopping in the supermarket for wine almost, but not quite, as enjoyable as shopping for cheese at the deli counter.

Where to start…?

I hesitate to begin sentences with the phrase “Am I the only person…”, because it invariably turns out that I am. But am I the only person who hates purchasing cheese from the deli counter?

Waiting and waiting, trying to remember who was before you (because the old ‘take a numbered ticket’ system seems to have been relegated to the grimmest of hand-out queues). And trying to remember who was after you, because there’s going to be a background of tutting and sighing throughout your service if it’s that posh-looking bloke with just a bachelor’s basket.

There are the agonies of trying to order the right amount – a bit less than that…no, a bit more than that… no, just a bit more…It’s harder than directing someone to scratch your back. And “Would you like a taste?” No, actually, I wouldn’t, because I don’t usually start my day with Stilton.

And the whole ghastly experience is surrounded by the suspicion that it’s exactly the same stuff that’s wrapped in plastic on the aisles, only given some kind of artisan sheen by carving it in front of you.

So the wine aisle has got a pretty low enjoyment threshold to surpass as far as I’m concerned. Sadly, it fails even that.

What is this “lingering” nonsense? People aren’t “lingering” in the wine aisle, they’re paralysed with indecision. They’re overwhelmed with choice. They’re frozen with incomprehension, like Victorians watching a jet plane.

It’s like this. You don’t “linger” in a polling booth. You’ve gone in, expecting to make your decision between three, maybe four well-known names. And suddenly there are all these strange alternatives; Homes Not Roads, Roads Not Homes, H’Angus the Monkey, Lord Buckethead of the Gremloids, Douglas Carswell. There’s even a whole second sheet, for a simultaneous local election that you didn’t even know was happening, as confusing as an unexpected special offer on Chilean reds.

And you’re overwhelmed with opportunities. Suddenly there are options you didn’t even know existed. This is choice overload.

In the wine aisle, there are even more unexpected possibilities. Look, that one’s half price – or is it really? Is that the one I read about, or not? Oh sod it, shall I settle for that one again? “Coming, dear, just coming… I’ll catch you up…” You’re going to get it wrong. You’re not lingering, you’re panicking.

No, all that “lingers” in my supermarket wine aisle is a faint air of desperation. Or is it disinfectant?

How, after all that, can people find shopping for wine in a supermarket “enjoyable” and “satisfying”? Only because there’s a powerful sense of anticipation, of enjoyment to come, which doesn’t generally apply in the aisle of kitchen rolls. Unlike many household purchases, you believe that your supermarket wine will bring you positive pleasure. Which really is a triumph of hope over experience.

Please, don’t tell supermarkets that they will benefit if they “invest in making the wine aisle an enjoyable place for shoppers to linger.” God knows what obstacles they will conceive to keep us there for longer. Jugglers? Magicians? Comfy chairs, to sit and peruse the Wall of Wine?

Or perhaps they’ll just move the Saturday assistant over from the cheese counter. To hand you a bottle when you point to it, rather than let you pick it up yourself.

The next time Shopper Intelligence explore something like this, I suggest they involve someone more appropriate in their research. Like an intelligent shopper.


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