Saturday, January 07, 2006

Safeway's new inventory control change and how it affected me

The family went went to Safeway tonight to pick up a few things, specifically things for dinner.  Aside from the things that we actually went to purchase, I noticed that Glaceau Vitamin Water was on sale at $1 a bottle, which is a pretty good deal, so I loaded up a flat of 24 of my favorite flavors/colors.  When I got to the checkstand, I handed the checker one bottle to scan and multiply by 24.  She informed me that I would have to put the whole flat on the belt because there was a new inventory rule that Safeway had implemented that required her to scan every bottle.  At this point there was no one in line behind me and I wasn’t necessarily in a huge hurry, so I simply observed.

The checker proceeded to grab a bottle of each color (there were only 2), count the quantity of each color, and scan the barcode of each color as many times as the quantity she had counted; I wasn’t paying much attention as I was scanning my Safeway Card and swiping my credit card.  In order to verify what she had done, the checker then printed a receipt and proceeded to count the number of bottles that she had printed and came up 7 short, so she scanned 7 more bottles; this was the point that the line started forming and by this point all of the rest of groceries were loaded in my cart.

In order to verify, yet again, that the quantity was correct, the checker printed another receipt and counted.  Because I had now done everything required of me to complete the transaction, I was watching her (albeit from an upside-down perspective) and noted that she had not counted 7 bottles that had printed on the receipt — essentially she had missed 7 bottles on her initial check and had scanned 7 bottles more than I had for a total 31 bottles.  Not to be deterred, the checker then grabbed a bottle and started scanning the barcode (one swipe at a time) to void 7 bottles — at about the 4th bottle, the register timed out and required her to void the entire purchase.  She told me that a manager could override and proceeded to call the manager on the PA system.

The manager arrived, scanned his manager card, and proclaimed that we had to re-scan the entire order.  We started from scratch, unloading all of the items in the cart from their bags and then scanning each bottle of Vitamin Water individually (the checker insisted on scanning the 2 different flavors separately while the manager told her just to scan 1 bottle 24 times — this becomes important later).  Luckily this time, now that the line was 5 deep, we all agreed on the correct quantity. 

At this point, the checker went to give me my receipt.  Safeway has a promotion where you receive scratchcards for various different reasons.  Apparently the various combinations of things that we had purchased made us eligible for 9 of these scratchcards.  The unfortunate part of the scratchcard process is that the register sounds and alert every time the checker is supposed to hand me a scratchcard and the checker must hit a button to clear the alert and verify that the card has been given before the register will print a receipt — for those doing the math, that meant that there were 9 instances of this sequence before my receipt would print.  Had I not been there with my wife and daughter, I probably would have left long before round 3 of the scanning.

Here are my thoughts:

Obviously Safeway decided that they had a new inventory control process for whatever reason.  This new process was communicated not only to the store management, but probably also to the union, both of whom communicated it to the checkers.  The checker was following the new process and while it was a big pain in the ass for both her and I, I find it a little hard to fault her for doing her job.  The manager, a non-union employee, instructed the checker to violate the new process to speed up and diffuse the situation, which I find interesting because he works directly for the corporation that came up with the process.

The whole inventory control process is silly for both sides: the consumer and the checker.  Even if we had gotten things done correctly the first time, it would have been much easier for the checker to scan one bottle and enter the quantity than to have to continuously scan the barcode.  If that can’t happen, then, in the case of Vitamin Water, put a SKU on the skid that rings up 24 bottles.

Scratchcard promotions are great and I’m sure that some person in some office realized that the only way to ensure that scratchcards are handed out was to interrupt the normal process with a verification mechanism.  Unfortunately, this person with the brilliant idea never tested it in the real world.  I have no idea what I purchased to get my 9 scratchcards (I only spent around $50 and $24 of that was in Vitamin Water), but I could not believe how hard it made it for both me and the checker.

1 comment:

James Cocker said...

Interesting, but not surprising that the manager over-rode the coroporate process. I work a lot with grocery retailers in the US and Europe, and a perennial problem is that of store managers failing to comply with procedures and directives from head office. In this instance it was clearly to everyone's benefit, but in general, it often adds an additional unhelpful layer of difficulty to making change happen in stores.