Now, what you might think, can possibly be so different about shopping in the UK?
Well, it starts from the moment you walk through the door to be confronted with an array of logistical options. A trolley, if you put a £1 coin in the slot to secure its release, provides the usual receptacle-on-wheels for gathering the stuff one wants but then there’s also the choice of taking along a scanning device from a bank of them staring blankly out at you from the repository at the entrance.
This clever little device allows you to select the items you want, scan them immediately and drop them directly into your shopping bag. No packing at the till required! It’s a bit of an odd feeling that, dropping stuff straight into a shopping bag before even going near a till, but that’s how it works. It took me a few attempts to feel comfortable that I wouldn’t feel the weight of a hand on my shoulder, attached to the body of a security employee wanting to take me off somewhere for interrogation.
At the end of the shop, the device goes back into the repository, you pay the required amount by inserting a card and then leave with your already packed shopping. I’m not sure exactly how it knows you haven’t made off with twice what you’re paying for, but it seems to work to the satisfaction of shoppers and shop owners alike. I can’t see it working here in Joburg though, where many shoppers have been putting a similar concept to good use for years, without the shop owner’s permission or the device!
If you don’t feel like scanning stuff as you shop, you can elect to do it at the till. I feel quite smug selecting this option these days, as one who knows how it works. But it’s quite simple really, just scan each item and drop it into a bag on the weighing platform and pay at the end. I did manage to pay several times for the bag that I already owned but wrote it off to a learning experience, or entertainment value, at just 10p a shot.
And then there’s Aldi’s.
This chain of shops operate on a unique model and there’s a good reason for why it hasn’t been copied, I think. Having walked around the somewhat confusing and chaotic array of shelves and bins housing their wares, often in no particular order, and selected those that fell into the category of chocolate biscuits, or just plain chocolate at a push, you arrive at a till with a conveyor belt the length of a Heathrow runway.
As if that wasn’t intimidating enough, you have to work furiously, loading items onto the conveyor and adding a little sign at the end indicating where your items end, and the next shopper’s items begin. As your shopping nears the end of the conveyor where it gets rung up, it becomes rapidly apparent that there is nowhere else for it to go. There simply is no packing space!
The idea is, it seems, that you must dash to the front of the till with the, hopefully, now empty trolley and pack it all back in again. Yep, that’s right, back into the trolley that you just worked furiously to unpack it from.
Once everything is back where it started from and you’ve paid, then you need to make your way to a narrow shelf running the length of the shop window where you are now required to take everything back out of the trolley and pack it into bags, or boxes, or whatever you’ve remembered to bring with you.
On completion, you then make your way to your car, unload the shopping and return the trolley to recover the £1 it cost you at the beginning. It’s like getting a little prize for completing all the steps in the right order, as are the really low prices, but the rigamarole of packing and unpacking, and packing and unpacking might make those a little less concerned about their pocket pay the premium at Sainsbury’s and forgo the additional effort.
I know that’s what I would do!