Eight years ago when my husband and I made the bold decision to move from New Jersey to New England we were attracted to a more affordable, better quality of life and the idea of living in a place where everyone knows their neighbors. In exchange, there were things we gave up – mail delivered to our house, garbage pick up and tons of shopping choices.
To access chain drug and food stores is a 25 mile drive in each direction, which is why my local independent pharmacy and smallish food store are preferred for routine purchases. Except for times say when your husband falls skiing, jams his thumb and needs a support brace, as was the case recently. So off I went “to town” where I had a choice of drug chains, two food stores and a major sporting goods chain. Since time was tight I hedged my bets and only visited the stores I guessed would give me the best selection, convenience and pricing. Sorry to say that meant grocery stores Price Chopper and Hannaford were knocked off the list, a decision I should add that was not based on fact, but perception.
In all I went to three stores – two drug chains and a sporting good store and if you define assortment as either none or one choice then maybe my strategy panned out, but other aspects of my shopping experience left a lot to be desired. Looking back, overall, I would describe my experience in all of these stores as frustrating, time consuming, complicated, unintuitive and largely absent of customer service. My first stop was CVS because I have a loyalty card there and because it was the closest. After searching for some time through the First Aid aisle I eventually found the support brace set located elsewhere in the store. The one option they carried looked cumbersome to get on and, at nearly $20 I felt compelled to explore other stores.
Driving a distance further I tried Dick’s — my husband’s suggestion — but all I got was annoyed that the aisles were not well signed and at no time as I wandered the cavernous store did any employee approach me (nor were any to be found) to ask if I needed help. I finally found the set, but it was rummaged through with most of the products either lying on the floor or out of stock. No thumb supports either. So I headed back to the other side of town to Walgreens, a chain I will admit not having inside of for some time because their prices always seemed higher to me than across the street neighbor CVS.
The store seemed unnecessarily large and once again it took me a while to find the first aid section. (Am I the only one thinking these items belong in or near the First Aid aisle?) I did find an employee who told me what I was looking for several aisles away along the back wall. No wonder I missed it – the sign was the type you can only see when you are right on top of it, unlike the hanging aisle descriptors easily visible from a distance. Once again I found only one option and mostly because I was exhausted from the quest and out of time I purchased it. Time elapsed: three hours including travel time, cost — $21.
In the past we have explored the opportunity for grocers to do more with nonfoods categories such as sports medicine and supports and while maybe the category isn’t right for every grocer, it may be worth revisiting a high margin category like this, especially since drug chains such as Walgreens are now looking to get a bigger piece of the food dollar. Chain officials apparently feel their convenient locations make them an attractive option for shoppers looking for fresh foods and prepared meals. If convenience was the entire part of the consumer value equation then I might be more confident this will work, but as my experience shows consumers are still willing to shop at different retailers to get exactly what they want.