Say what?

Call it a disease, a compulsion or a case of simple curiosity, but I can’t seem to travel anywhere – whether for business or pleasure – without checking out the local supermarkets in the area.

While on vacation recently in Aruba I toured a few of the larger supermarkets, interested to see how they stacked up to U.S. grocers in terms of variety and merchandising strategies. My conclusion is that they are similar yet very different from stores here, but I have yet to figure out whether the differences are culturally rooted or come from somewhere else.

Catering to both locals and tourists is a formidable task for sure, as anyone who operates a store with this type of demographic will tell you. With numerous competitors in the area it is critical that retailers find balance and play to both groups equally so that neither feels excluded.

For my personal shopping, I focused on Ling & Sons IGA Super Center. At 32,000 square feet the store is certainly comparative size wise to U.S. stores. The variety in each department was also similar. Service wise the store did well, but the way they communicated product information seemed a little lagging. Emphasizing friendly service, the company’s employees are happy to assist customers whether boxing your groceries and taking them to your car or answering any questions you may have. I found myself putting this to the test in the coffee aisle. I had trouble finding what I wanted because, like most of the products in the store, the labels on the coffee bags were mostly in Dutch. I flagged down an employee working in the aisle and although her English was limited she did her best to help me pick out a strong bean coffee that had what she called a “large taste.”

While nothing will replace the worth of old-fashioned service, the value of clearly communicating with customers at the shelf should not be overlooked either. With that in mind, and at the risk of sounding like an entitled American, I might suggest to the Ling Family and other supermarket owners operating in vacation areas to consider including multi-lingual signage throughout the store. Shelf tags or icons would greatly help us non-natives better understand what we are buying, make the shopping experience easier
and encourage more purchases of local items. Several times I picked up local varieties of bread or cheese, but put them back in favor of more expensive and imported Pepperidge Farm bread and Jarlsberg cheese because the Dutch labels on the regional items gave me no indication of what it would taste like or even what its name translated to in English. And since these items, which were priced in the local currency, florins (if they were priced at all), cost more than comparative items in the U.S., I was hesitant to buy something I might not like. Speaking of pricing, a final suggestion I’d like to offer retailers is to price items in both the local currency and perhaps one or two others including U.S., especially if you accept that currency as payment.

Pasa un bon dia!

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