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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where is the Little Guy in Greeley Politics?

After a morning trip to Safeway to purchase fresh white fish for my brother's father's day dinner, I was amused to find a posting from Greeley's Tribune's Gnarly Trombone on the self-service checkout lanes around town. I like this Gnarly Dude. Gnarly has more media spunk than some.

I had never seen one of these self-checkout lanes until I came to Greeley. Although I have read about them in retail industry papers. There are some other technology revolutions in store for shoppers too. But I don't think we will see these all at once. For one labor union's can't be too pleased about swapping out people for techno-chips and hand held inventory devices. Secondly, as every good marketeer knows, you have to soften up the public for innovative changes that effect their routine habits or be lynched on the town plaza.

I have a good friend from Canada who mentioned that his local store has the self-service lanes as well as specialized lanes that the disabled workers can staff. He also noted that shopping carts can't be had without a coin deposit that releases each one from its mechanical prison. I thought the second concept very progressive and interesting. I thought the third a great idea except for the increasing rise in the homeless who use them for luggage storage. But I won't digress into macro-economics here.

We, my friend (an attorney) and I, had a long debate on the employer's obligation to hire disabled workers and the public patience with these specialized lanes. While I thought I would be more likely to shop at a store with these lanes (thus offsetting the cost to the business for specialized lanes) he said that a lot of consumers are too impatient (sometimes it seems it can take a longer time to move through the modified checkstand line).

I see the modified checkstand as a reasonable accommodation for a worker's special need. Therefore I can be a little more reasonable and modify my own needs to be accommodating to a fellow human- being with less employment options through no fault of their own. Whereas I refuse to try the self-checkout lanes merely because I see them as a method for hastening getting rid of real people jobs rather than merely annoyingly time-consuming to educate myself on how to use them correctly. The way jobs are disappearing from our economy, and considering the trend has been to make policies (and Supreme Court judgments) against labor, I figure it is in my own self-interest to slow this process down. Regardless how insignificant my individual contribution may be. At least until some decent job creation policies exist to transfer people being cut in one industry to new service based jobs in other industries hits the employment scene.

Eventually though, I am well aware, the overall consumer demand for the lowest prices will win out.

The working-class public screams at outsourcing and corporate labor practices yet they still drool over having a Wal-mart in town. In my view it comes down to that dichotomy we all face--do I act as an individual or do I act for the benefit of others. The hypocrisy between lower prices or living wage employment practices though is not just in the corporate offices and inside our own homes. It exists in local governmental practices as well.

I am still trying to figure out why Greeley doesn't have a strong Mom and Pop sector in competition with these big guns. Basically, if I am correct, Safeway and Soopers (Kroger) have been battling out for the main local marketshare in retail grocery. For a while I thought Kroger a subsidiary of Safeway but I checked the corporate website and decided that is not true. There are rumors on the Internet back in 2003 that Wal-mart owns both but that also is not true (nor would it be healthy for anyone but Wal-mart, Safeway, and Kroger investors). Of course Wal-mart is in town along with Sam's club (Wal-mart). That creates a whole different pressure to drive down labor costs locally.

I'd love to see Smart and Final pop up here for the wholesale competition to Sam's club. But they aren't big enough to take on Sam and smart enough not to try. I haven't found any other option for the restaurant wholesale industry locally and this may be why the local restaurants are sadly lacking (my personal opinion) tasty and better fare.

I am told there were some other options until recently and I know Avanza is still here in town (but that has more a niche speciality line of goods and is not directly in Safeway's target market segments--so they get to escape--for now). My own biggest pet-peeve is I can't find a decent local farmer's market without driving out of town. Where are all the small farmer's?

I'll also admit I have a special pet peeve with Safeway's Club member program. Kroger's Soopers has a similar but less devious tracking program. I didn't have to give up any of my personal information to get a Sooper card. Therefore I shop at Soopers the most.

I've been in marketing. I know how these programs work. I've also gone through union organization from the management perspective in this industry (another story for another time--I left this industry a while ago). Many middle-management jobs are eliminated by this program through the increased efficiency in collecting consumer marketing data. I understand and agree in the efficiency part--it is a necessary part of staying competitive. It can lead to a better product mix selection for consumers. On the flip side I don't see these operational savings being passed on to the consumer although the consumers are the ones giving up their information in the name of "savings". But instead I believe the cost savings of this system translated into higher executive pay and ROI for the company. It used to be companies had to pay and work a whole lot harder to get consumer's to give up that kind of data. There was a value exchange taking place and the consumer often received real incentives for giving up their personal shopping data. Now it is no longer clear that happens.

It is clear that if you don't use Safeway's member card system you'll be forced to pay higher prices. It is not clear that the card is tied uniformly to lowered sale prices. They use the term "money-saving promotions" rather than sale prices for a reason. It is clear it is "exclusive" to those giving u their information to get a card. And most consumers don't understand the internal systems or technology well enough to "beef" about any of this. ( Which is why I am special. I always have to analyse any system. Bad genetics I guess. I didn't get the sheep's costume at birth.) It irks me though that many consumers appear to not even understand how valuable all that personal information is to the company and don't give a second thought to giving it up freely. I don't even need to mention that there is little restriction on its use and, likely, a pretty profit made from reselling this data. Ever wonder how some of those junk mailers get your address? If the savings were being passed on to consumers then Safeway would have long ago won the competitive wars locally by having substantially lower prices and better business practices Instead I think Safeway's competitive edge comes from acquisitions and the use of economy of scale to push out competitors.

But least I forget my focus on the blog for the last few postings... my primary interest remains why local government seems to still be pushing for more mega-corporate entities rather than seriously building up the Mom and Pop sector or refurbishing declining sections of town containing Mom and Pops. I'm still looking for more information on what is going on behind the scenes. I'd still like to see some direct representation for local farmers and quality fresh produce for local consumers. Also I don't understand why the public doesn't seem to be too troubled by the decay of the local sector. Interesting town.

I am having fun exploring these ideas.

Gnarly Trombone: Self-service: Swim through Jell-O | Greeley Tribune
This is supposed to be the newest labor-saving wonderful thing, and we should use it, because it saves energy or trees or something good like that.

However.

I hate self-service lanes.

A lot of our stores have them set up now, so you can “conveniently” check yourself out, pay through a slot, and be on your way. Lickety-split.

But it never works that way.

NEVER.

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