Who’s Been Drinking Out Of My Glass? - Grocery Shopping
Some thoughts about aging and living in Milan, Ohio by the founder of MilanArea.com who is also the site photographer, the site designer, the site janitor and a disgruntled elderly person.
"The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes."
Frank Lloyd Wright (1869 - 1959)
One of my favorite wintertime activities is grocery shopping. It get's me out of the house and it's good exercise walking around the stores and in that sense, the bigger the store, the better. We don't have any grocery stores in Milan at this time, so most people who live in Milan do their grocery shopping in Norwalk which is just a few miles away. And while it may be inconvenient to have to drive to Norwalk to do our shopping, the reward is that there are no less than four full service grocery stores to choose from which means a lot of selection and some very good deals. I'll get into that later, but first let's talk about age discrimination at the grocery stores.
Age discrimination can be done in a variety of ways. We all know about age discrimination in the workplace when someone qualified is not hired because of their age. I'm not talking about that but rather age discrimination in marketing of grocery items. The problem for most elderly people is that the size of our families decrease as we get older, as does our appetites. Which means we buy less and/or buy smaller quantities and most of us are on a fixed budget which creates a problem when we grocery shop since many stores today have their good pricing on larger quantities known as family/value packs.
I'd like to think that grocery stores don't intentionally discriminate against elderly people, but I think they'd have to be completely insensitive to not see that their pricing discriminates against certain groups of people. The fact is they do want to persuade people to spend more money in their stores. And the easiest way to do that is to market their product in a way that forces people to buy larger quantities if they want to get the best price. Hence they offer value packs or family packs of food such as butcher cuts of steaks, chops and chicken. Why sell one steak individually packaged at $5.00 when you can sell four in a family pack at $20.00? So to encourage their customers to buy larger quantities, they actually charge MORE for smaller quantities and this clearly discriminates against elderly people and in fact any person on a fixed or limited budget. What they're saying is that if you're elderly or on a fixed budget, you have to pay a penalty, in the form of higher prices, to shop at their store. I think the worst offender of this in Norwalk is Apples. Apparently they see themselves as mini warehouse stores rather than neighborhood grocery stores. Would you punish your parents or grandparents by charging them more to shop for necessities? Of course not and yet some grocery stores are owned by people who apparently have a clear conscious on this issue.
Not every store does this today but it is a trend that we see developing in many of the larger chain stores. One store - Kroger's have even gone so far as to have minimum purchases in order to get the good prices. So they discriminate twice on family pack pricing AND minimum dollar purchasing. It's really insulting for people on a fixed budget. Obviously they don't care who they discriminate against in their quest for the big register sales but since Kroger is not located in Norwalk, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I will discuss the Sandusky Kroger's store in my grocery store review.
One store that I've not seen this done at is Wal-Mart grocery stores. I do think they grasp the concept pretty well with their everyday low pricing. Does this mean you should shop at Wal-Mart and not Kroger's? No! I'm not saying that at all, what I'm saying is that one store doesn't discriminate against people on a fixed budget and one store does. I shop at whichever one has the best price on the products I want to buy that week so I don't discriminate against them because I can't afford to ignore a good buy at any store. On the other hand, I don't go out of my way to shop at Kroger's any more than they go out of their way to encourage me to shop at their store.
I'm dividing this discussion into two parts. This first part deals with grocery stores in general and the second page deals specifically with grocery stores in the Milan area. If you don't live in the Milan/Norwalk area, the second page would be of little interest to you and that's why I divided this into two parts.
Elderly people have unique needs apart from the everyday average grocery shopper. We're not the only group with unique needs, but I often think we're the group being ignored the most in the marketplace. To make my point, I've noticed mothers with young children now have special carts to put their children in while shopping. These oversize carts take up a lot of aisle space but I'm sure the mothers appreciate this marketing devise to get them into the stores. The average American family of four can purchase family packs of food to save them money which is another marketing devise to get the family shoppers into the store. Many of the bigger stores now supply special motorized carts to make shopping easier for those with handicaps which is a smart marketing idea. The list goes on and on and yet I'm hard pressed to find any marketing done in or by grocery stores specifically for elderly people. So I've made up my own list. It's not complete by any means and I'm sure many of the readers of this page have their own ideas of ways to attract elderly customers to grocery stores, but it's a start. My way of blowing off steam in an areas that needs a little steam. Here's my brief list:
1. Attracting elderly customers starts in the front of the store. Set aside a reasonable number of handicapped parking spaces as close as possible to the front door. Don't go just by state/federal disability code guidelines. That's only a starting point for companies that are forced to comply with the handicapped laws. It's never enough - period! Many handicapped people are elderly but all handicapped people have trouble walking long distances. If you want them to shop at your ever larger stores, get them as close as you can to your entrance door so they have the energy to walk through the store. While you're at it, why not have some special parking areas reserved for elderly people?
While I'm on the topic, let me take a moment to discuss handicapped parking spaces and grocery cart storage areas. First, which is more important to your store? I'm seeing a trend to put grocery cart storage areas in parking spaces closest to the store front door. What you're saying is that your grocery carts are more important to you than your customers. The proper way to do this is to have your handicapped parking closet to the front door of the store, then have your grocery storage cart racks and then the remainder of your parking spaces. It is important to have the grocery cart storage racks next to the handicapped parking because many handicapped and elderly people find it convenient to hold onto the cart when coming into the store. This is even more important in our climate with winter weather that can make walking an adventure for elderly people. But don't put the carts before the people.
2. Don't punish people for having a smaller appetite or a fixed budget. Take into considerations that specials can also be aimed at the elderly population. For example: it's not unusual to see a gallon of milk on sale in grocery stores, but for most elderly people, a gallon of milk will expire long before they can use it up. When you have a special on gallon's of milk, why not also have a special on quarts of milk. Put yourself in the position of the elderly person shopping at your store and take them into consideration on food items that have expiration dates and/or are perishable. "Buy One Get One Free" promotions also doesn't work for most elderly people nor do 5 for $5, 10 for $10 or case pricing promotions. All of these are anti-elderly not to mention how ineffective they are for single people.
3. Most elderly people have vision problems and many of us have trouble reading without eyeglasses. What you're looking at on this page is 14pt. type. This is big enough that most elderly people can read it comfortably. Unfortunately, most meat and produce labels are written in 8 point or smaller so we can't read it. Some numbers like 3-8-9 or very difficult to distinguish when shown in small type. Make you label printing larger for the name of the item, the weight of item, the cost per on the item and the price of the item. It's easy to do, costs next to nothing to re-label and your elderly customers will LOVE you for it.
4. Elderly people are frail. The older we get the more frail we become. Our bones become brittle, our immune system starts to break down and we're more susceptible to colds and flu. A cold in an elderly person can become pneumonia quickly and be life threatening just as fast. There is always a problem when you have infants and young children being put into grocery carts that are also being used by elderly people. It's well documented that handles of grocery store carts carry an excess of germs so always, always, always have sanitary wipes available by the shopping carts and encourage your customers to wipe down the handles of the carts. And, on the outside of the building, have your parking lot and sidewalks even and on a level grade.
5. Don't insult us when we ask a question. It's true we might not see as good as we used to, or hear as good as we used to or have the energy we used to have, but someday the very same thing is going to happen to you. Many times younger people simply don't know how to communicate with their elders. One way to avoid this problem is by hiring elderly people to work in a store so that the younger employees can learn from working with them that they have special needs. Look at it this way, if we've cared enough to shop at a store, the personal ought to care enough to answer our questions clearly and courteously without being rude. A lot of times we ask questions because we can't see the label clearly (note number 3 above) or we don't understand your specials (note number 6 below) or we're just confused over something in your store.
6. Elderly people don't always think as clearly as they did at a younger age and sometimes it's easy to confuse them. Don't get tricky with your ads and labeling. There's one meat department in a grocery store who got me so confused, so many times, that I finally stopped buying my meat there. For example they would advertise select cuts of boneless strip steaks at $4.99 with a note in tiny print at the bottom part of the ad that said by full lion. First of all, I think it's a good thing for a butcher to label the grade of their meat, but how many people know what a "select" cut is exactly? It sounds good, but it is? Well, actually select is the lowest cut of meat grade - Prime being the best, choice being the next best and then finally select. So in a way the store is saying they have a special on their lowest grade of meat. But if you don't know what "select" means, then this sounds pretty good. Obviously, a store that is customer oriented would not only grade their meat products but have a sign that clearly explains the different grades of meat.
In the case of the "select" strip steaks, when I got to the store they had family packs of 6 steaks with a handwritten "select strips" label on the packs and a sign in the showcase above the steaks that said "select" strip steaks $4.99 a pound. So I put them in my cart and imagine my surprise when they cashier tried to charge me $6.99 a pound at the cash register for the family pack of steaks. I complained and they said they had nothing to do with the meat department so I would have to straighten it out back there. When I talked to the butcher he said that $ 4.99 price was only for the full loin which sells for about $50.00, not for the family packs. I said "Why don't you say that on your sign?" He said "We do". And so we walked over and looked at the sign and guess what - they had to remove the sign. Did he offer to give me the sale price on my family pack - no! Did he apologize - no! He just turned around and walked away carrying his sign with him. And I turned around and walked away and vowed to never buy meat at that store again. You want my business - don't play games and admit when you're wrong.
OK, there you have it. My suggestions to make grocery shopping more elderly friendly. I'll bet if you've taken time to read this page, you probably have some ideas of your own. I encourage you to send them to me just by clicking on the e-mail message at the bottom of this section. If your idea makes sense to me, I'll add it to my list above and maybe someday we'll see some of these ideas put into use.
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