Who wouldn’t love having their groceries delivered directly to their car while waiting in a temperature-controlled climate?
Imagine, no children crying in the store and begging for treats.
Grocery store chains have introduced this idea right here in our neighborhood, making the rigors of in-store shopping a thing of the past.
The concept is simple. You, the shopper, go online and choose your meats, cheeses, snacks, drinks and anything else you would normally purchase. It is convenient.
Simply pull up to the loading area, keep your air conditioning on, pop the trunk and the personal shopper will load your groceries.
Sounds great? Let me tell you what is behind this personal shopping experience. I lived it. I hope that shoppers will appreciate — at least a little bit — what goes into selecting items for customers who choose not to brave the interior of their favorite markets.
I recently worked as a customer shopper for a grocery chain, an experience that opened my eyes about true customer service. Personal-shopper employees have their own entrance surrounded by customized shopping carts compartmentalized to serve nine customers per shopping adventure.
Typically, orders arrive via computer (doesn’t everything?) and the manager posts the lists by time of pick-up. Lists are further divided by frozen and oversized items. The carts vary in size and capacity depending on the order.
Once a personal shopper is assigned a list, the clock starts ticking. Oh yes, there is no time to waste.
Each employee is timed as he or she moves through the aisles and the results of their times are posted daily. If a personal shopper takes too long to gather the groceries, he or she is put on probation.
Personal shoppers have to compensate for time spent with customers who ask where items are located and crowds of shoppers competing for space.
Personal shoppers use a hand-held device that features a numbering system to indicate exactly where an item is located. That is, unless, corporate is re-doing the store.
A frozen pizza in aisle A-3 may actually be in A-93, but the hand-held device can’t compensate for recent stocking changes. Personal shoppers can only keep searching until they locate the recently-moved items.
Managers monitor each employee via walkee-talkee, and most conversations consist of “where are you? What aisle are you in? When will you be back?”
Substitutions are also a concern; customers can list items and accepted substitutes. If a customer wants a substitute, the personal shopper must choose the best substitute based on the customer’s preference. If, though, the substituted item is not acceptable at check-out, the personal shopper must credit the customer the amount of the item.
After acquiring all of a customer’s items, the personal shopper arrives back in the holding cell. Then selected items must be stored in either the freezer, the refrigerator or in crates that stack five high. The freezer is brutal — it must remain closed after transferring each container and the pull latch on the door can make exiting more than a little challenging.
The refrigerator has its own set of trials: each customer has their own printed label, and the personal shopper must put all of the containers together in stacks for easy removal when the customer arrives.
Customers buy more and more these days — sometimes for charity, sometimes for assisted living — and these choices result in hundreds of pounds of donations.
Once the call comes in that the customer has arrived in the parking lot, personal shoppers are required to grab a dolly and collect all of the assorted groceries. Most stores guarantee delivery within six minutes of the customer’s arrival.
Delivery of the customer’s groceries does not depend on weather conditions. It can be 100 degrees out there, or rainy, windy or snowing. Personal shoppers deliver those groceries to the customers — sometimes with an umbrella — and might just find a trunk filled with car seats, baby items and other stuff.
Sometimes, customers are grateful and tip their personal shoppers 50 cents — or $5. That’s fine, but what the weary personal shopper really would appreciate is the customer’s appreciation of our efforts and some patience.
Personal shoppers, whatever their gender or age, do their best to gather your goods and get them to you as quickly as humanly possible.
Thank you for shopping at your favorite Valencia County grocery store.
(Joanne Twaddell is an in-home services case worker for Youth Development Inc. In her spare time, she enjoys doing her own grocery shopping.)