Craig and Lee discuss the frustrations and negative impacts of the push to self checkouts, specifically focusing on their experiences at Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart. They highlight the lack of staff and respect, absence of bags, and the inconvenience faced by customers including vulnerable groups. Craig expresses his disappointment and calls for improved customer service in these stores.
The Weekly podcast part of the The Retail Insider Podcast Network by Retail Insider Canada and is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or through our dedicated RSS feed for Overcast and other podcast players.
Retail Insider content discussed this episode:
- Single Use Plastic Bag Ban Creates Unintended Problems In Canada [Feature/Expert Interviews]
- Are Canadians Buying Less Groceries With Ongoing Inflation? [Op-Ed]
- Consumers In Canada Less Loyal To Brands In Grocery Stores Amid Inflation [Study]
- Are Food Retailers in Canada Guilty of ‘Greedflation’? It’s Complicated. [Sylvain Charlebois]
This is a Retail Insider PodCast. You’re listening to “The Weekly”.
Lee Rivett 0:08
Welcome to this week’s episode of “The Weekly” by Retail Insider. I’m Lee Rivett. And I’m joined with the owner and publisher of Retail Insider Media, Craig Patterson, to discuss this week’s most read articles on retail-insider.com. So thanks for joining me, Craig.
Craig Patterson 0:22
Lee Rivett 0:23
Now for this week, Craig wanted to talk about a negative experience that he had at a local Loblaws chain of grocery stores in his area instead of talking about our popular content on our website. Now, not all Canadians who are served by a proper Loblaws branded grocery store, but most have at least touched upon one of their other brands, which would be the Real Canadian Superstore, the No Frills and the Shoppers Drug Mart. And they’ve been around for a while – they started up in 1919 and serve millions of Canadians in urban and rural environments – making them a real significant player in the Canadian retail marketplace. But Craig, where would you like to start?
Craig Patterson 0:58
Yeah, I wanted to talk a bittle bit about some of the experiences that I’ve seen. It is probably no secret anyone that actually shops in these stores that there is a situation where there are more self checkouts and less staff that are actually at the tills to take people. This is causing a little bit of a lack of satisfaction for some individuals, including myself.
Lee Rivett 1:17
So what happened?
Craig Patterson 1:18
I always say when I go into a Shoppers Drug Mart now is getting ready to leave – my measure of success is “How not disappointed am I with my experience?” and that’s really an unfortunate place to be given that I think we’re also being gouged with prices right now.
Lee Rivett 1:33
I don’t have as much experience with Loblaws groceries in downtown Vancouver as you do because our main grocery competitors are either “Urban Fare” from Overwaitea Foods Group, “IGA”, or “Whole Foods”. There’s others of course, but those are the three that are down town here in Vancouver. And when you finish getting your, lets say, weekly groceries and you walk up to the counter to ‘ring’ yourself out so you can go home. Either one of those three I mentioned would have about five or six – tills all manned by human beings – to help you through the checkout process. And if you need a bag, it’s 25 cents for like a paper bag or about $2.50 for a cloth bag. Which is reasonable if I forgot my bag at home, or if I was too lazy to go grab the bag as I was walking out the door. Now when I go to one of the Shoppers Drug Mart locations in downtown Vancouver – which is part of the overall Loblaws Group of Companies were talking about – and I grabbed my shampoo and hair conditioner and go to the counter – there’s nobody there to help me through the checkout process. There’s four or five self checkout counters which have no bags or anybody there (except for our security guard, making sure that I’m not running out without paying for my merchandise) and there’s maybe one counter that’s out there that has space for a human being behind it – but it’s typically empty and not manned. So if you’re kind of left to ‘fend for yourself’ to go through the checkout process, and there is potentially a reusable bag that’s rubberized that’s $5 (which is twice the price is any of the cloth bags that the other chains that I was just talking about) – I’m just going to go get my bar of soap and pay for it and then walk home with it in my hand as opposed to getting a bag from them.
Lee Rivett 3:12
Now on the other hand, I’m just wondering for you with a Loblaws grocery situation with avocados rolling around and milk, you’re going to need a bag. So having to pay $5 for one of these rubberized ones that I’m seeing from Shoppers and overlaying that experience that I’m having from Shoppers over to groceries would be horrible. So is it frustrating for you? Or are you kind of left ‘fending for yourself’ as well? Or is it a different experience from the Loblaws ‘groceries’ versus the Loblaws ‘Shoppers Drug Mart’ I’ve just mentioned?
Craig Patterson 3:42
I find it to be quite frustrating seems like fewer and fewer tills with humans at them – I don’t want to say ‘manning’ them, it could be women or otherwise – are not open. You have a situation where there’s more of these self checkouts. But what blows me away is that there are often are no bags. Which is another friction point, because you have to deal with the human but you’re at a self checkout. It just doesn’t make sense. I mean, I just can’t believe the stupidity that I’m seeing with this retailer and others that are doing it like that it it just shocks me. And I think it’s rather disrespectful to the consumer, to be honest.
Lee Rivett 4:15
Well, and in the Shoppers Drug Mart, they do have bags for you to purchase, and they’re reusable and rubberized and stuff. But is that the same situation that you would have in Loblaws, too?
Craig Patterson 4:25
Absolutely. And yeah, they do have some bags that are that are way overpriced for what they are. They don’t cost that much to produce. Some people especially in big cities – I can understand someone doing a larger trip if they’re in the suburbs, or they’ve pre planned this – yeah, it gets great you could pack your bags, that’s going to be wonderful. But for myself off my shopping trips, involve me being between meetings, there’ll be somewhere seeing someone, whatever I’m doing, and I’m like, Oh yes, I need something. It’s kind of an urban pedestrian experience.
Lee Rivett 4:51
So since you’re downtown, what you’re saying is that you’re going about your business day, going to the bank or whatever that may be, and then you would pop into the grocery store on the way because it’s convenient, but you’re not going to be taking Loblaws grocery bags with you to do your business, go to the bank, and all that kind of stuff on a normal business day – because you’re not purposely doing it, and you just don’t have bags with you.
Craig Patterson 5:11
I don’t walk around with, with with bags that maybe I should. As a guy, I just don’t even carry any bag around, I threw a credit card and my keys in my pockets, and I go. So this, you know, is an inconvenience. And then on top of this, having to buy these bags, it’s an extra cost for someone. But also for me, the frustration is just having more of these bags, but over 100 of these reusable bags in my apartment that are going to be going into the garbage. At some point, I’m assuming. I used to reuse the plastic bags I was getting, I put them in garbage cans, I would do other things like that.
Lee Rivett 5:41
The paper bags that are being offered by let’s say, “Urban Fare”, “IGA” and “Whole Foods” is more biodegradable. So if you bring them home, it’s not like you’re going to be harming the environment that much. And those cloth ones are probably not that expensive to produce. But those rubberized ones that you get from Shoppers Drug Mart and I’m assuming from Loblaws groceries to is probably more harmful for the environment if you’re using them more of a as a disposeable kind of thing, right? So because that’s going directly into the landfill, if you just throw them out.
Craig Patterson 6:12
We had an article in there – Evan Duggan wrote from Retail Insider – about reusable bags and the amount of energy that’s been taken to produce these and and I think that this is gonna be more of an environmental disaster in the end, if you can call it that, and what we’re seeing with plastic bags. But I digress a little bit in the conversation here.
Lee Rivett 6:28
So coming back to it. So when you go up to the till to pay at a Loblaws grocery or let’s say Shoppers Drug Mart or something? What’s the experience for you when you basically get there and there’s no human behind the counter, the one that’s there or just an army of self serve?
Craig Patterson 6:43
When I go to, say a Shoppers Drug Mart store, I feel highly disrespected for the fact that there’s no people around I mean, other than perhaps a security guards. People look look frazzled, they were trying to work these self checkout machines and and didn’t seem to know how to use them. And I felt bad for the staff. Because you know, I talked to them, and it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the company, creating a bad user experience, in my opinion. So I go to Rexall. Now, actually, I hate to say that, but sometimes I’ll go specifically, I’m going to be shopping later, for some things. And because Rexall always has people behind the till, I’m gonna give them my money. Yeah, I’m going to do that I’m not going to shop your Shoppers Drug Mart the only the only benefit I see to shopping at Shoppers Drug Mart besides some of the brands that are there that you know, may be loyal to. And by the way, consumers, according to an EY study are not nearly as brand loyal as they were before they’re seeking value, because a lot of people are stretched. But in Rexall, at least you got somebody behind the till. That’s that’s trying and and I think that, you know, I encourage Rexall to continue doing this because people like me are going to go there. Perhaps I’m in the minority. But at the very least, I do feel more respected at that store. Given that situation.
Craig Patterson 7:45
I’m disappointed. I would say this to Loblaw companies face I’ve complained to managers before. I’ve been somewhat vocal about this, but I welcome the company to reach out to me if they’re listening to this, I hope they are. To speak to me about this, I’d love to have someone on the segment, or at least get an explanation of why the customer service situation is gone to crap essentially at Loblaws Stores. Don’t blame the staff, they’re they’re trying their hardest to wonderful people, my local Loblaws. But they’re understaffed. And it’s a really, really unfortunate situation.
Lee Rivett 8:15
And what’s your thought on the prevalence of self checkout, because for me being some rather tech savvy, I can maneuver self checkout to be able to get myself out the door and grumble about it if I need to. But I’m looking at some of the more vulnerable segments of our population, like let’s look at seniors. If they were to go in there, they and they weren’t unable to figure out how to do a self checkout. There isn’t anyone typically around in Shoppers Drug Mart that to help them check out. Like at least they have, like, let’s say the pharmacy to help ring them through if they need to. But if you’re kind of going to the friend where there’s typically the army of self checkout without anybody there, so for the security guard, they’ll be kind of hooped.
Craig Patterson 8:59
It’s challenging sometimes to deal with some stuff. Sometimes you’re a bit older, I’m getting there, myself, and the disabled. You know, some people have more challenges than others physically or even mentally. Having to operate these self checkouts isn’t going to be beneficial, useful or desirable for some people probably most. I’m not gonna say it’s discriminatory. But it’s certainly a situation where this is a challenge for some people and forcing people to use these self checkouts, I think is just a way to cheap out on staff. And I know that we have had a bit of a staffing crisis here in Canada, but we also have a lot of people that are still looking for jobs.
Craig Patterson 9:35
But really, I think that Loblaws could do better. And hopefully they will, but they probably won’t, because they don’t have to, they can keep saving money. We’re going to keep shopping there. This is probably the worst time to be offering bad customer service in stores because we already feel like we’re getting gouged. We know that these retailers were screwing us over with these, you know, bread prices and probably other pricing as well. We just don’t know yet. And so really, you know, there needs to be a PR move here. I think there could be almost a revolt at this point, but but we’ll see what happens here in Canada. Interesting time. I know I’ve been very negative here, probably a bit hostile, but it is what it is. I’ve said what I’ve said, and I welcome a conversation around it.
Lee Rivett 10:17
I don’t happen to have a downtown Vancouver Loblaws grocery store. So this was very enlightening for me. So thanks for sharing and chat with you next week. Craig.
Craig Patterson 10:25
Thank you so much for listening to my rant today. Take care and bye for now.
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