How Giant Food Set My Standard for Grocery Stores

Although Giant Food stores were bought by a foreign corporation around the turn of the century, and their quality deteriorated, the standard by which I’ve judged grocery stores all my life was set by Mr. Cohen’s Bethesda-based Giant store chain in the early 1980s.  And here’s a list of the things I miss:

  1. Local produce. (Though most of Mr. Cohen’s Giant stores contained their own on-site bakery they also stocked Columbia Union College Bakery bread. Likewise Rock Creek soda pop, Barcelona nuts back when those were processed in Takoma Park, and corn on the cob freshly picked in upper Montgomery County.)
  1. The serious bulk-foods aisle, including brown and wild rice, flour, oats, dry beans, even spices, as well as nuts, candy, and crackers.
  1. Wide selection of vegetarian, kosher, and special-diet-friendly convenience foods, including anything with the Giant brand on it. (Giant Food store brands really used to be made by the store, with pride, rather than being “factory seconds.” And although the store sold all kinds of meat packed elsewhere, all Giant brand food used to be kosher.)
  1. Neighborhood notice boards.
  1. School sponsorship programs.
  1. Clean stores, with sparkling public restrooms.
  1. Polite staff…Giant did allow cashiers to speak before they were spoken to, but required them to shut up and watch what they were doing while ringing up purchases, which displayed prominently on a nice simple readable computer screen. (There was also a policy that, if the scanned price didn’t match the shelf price, the item was free with no questions asked, which should be required by law in any store that uses bar-code scanners.)
  1. Best prices in town, even when the quality of the merchandise was significantly better.
  1. No attempt to puff up fresh produce by keeping it soaking in water all day. The stores just stocked fresh produce. (One thing I didn’t like about Giant in its local-and-excellent period was that they ruthlessly sent any produce that was starting to deteriorate to the landfill, rather than letting inner-city missions haul it away.)
  1. Soup and salad bar with the soups cooked and the vegetables cleaned on site as needed, thus reducing the need for preservatives. Notably, chili soup that wasn’t watered down in the first place and so didn’t have to be re-thickened with flour, and wasn’t canned before being sold and so didn’t need sugar.
  1. If piped-in sound was noticeable,  it was only instrumental music and/or urgent announcements. (Lost children, parked cars with lights left on, and scattered car pools are urgent. Sales are not urgent.)
  1. Very little visual or auditory “clutter.” Storekeepers must fight the temptation to block aisles with extra displays or put racks too close together. Noisy, messy stores bring out delinquent tendencies in quiet children. Quiet, orderly stores soothe the inner beasts of stressed-out, grumpy adults.
  1. Help everyone save money by operating primarily on a cash basis. If the store processes checks or electronic transactions, it should route them through separate checkout lines.
  1. Keep employees either working a cash register or scrubbing the floors and bathrooms, and encourage people to bag their own groceries.
  1. If you consistently keep prices low, you don’t need to stuff ad sheets into the newspapers. If you do spend money on ad sheets, however,note that (1) slick paper doesn’t burn or recycle well and is so annoying that it may motivate people not to subscribe to the newspaper, and (2) simple, single-fold ad sheets are more likely to be read than elaborate origami constructions.

Groceries photographed by jeltovski, :


Ads Should Accentuate the Positive

Actually these are reasonable blogging tips, but the only reason why I know it was that I was looking for a browser-friendly example of off-putting advertising…and here, in return, are some advertising tips.

Granted, I’m not rich. Also granted, even when I was fairly well off, I avoided spending money on things that “had to be ‘sold'” and did most of my shopping in charity-related stores. About the only things I normally buy “unused” are food, shoes, and underwear. And I don’t even own a television set.

Nevertheless I note that advertisers are, for no obvious reason, trying to “target” me with a selection of ads that somebody out there thinks fit my online profile. I suppose, if advertisers just can’t keep from using the Internet to generate spammy ads (“Enhance Your Manhood, Priscilla!”), they seem more credible when they pay some attention to what people read. But this idea goes only so far. The fact that I might be doing a paid research job that involves reading an article about heroin addiction does not mean I’ve ever considered using heroin, or even talked to anyone (so far as I know) who has.

A few years ago I wrote about what Hobby Lobby stores could do to get more money from me, since money I spend there is business-related and generally a profitable investment. The article generated a thousand page views in one day, some undoubtedly from Hobby Lobby marketers. It did not mention offering “downloadable coupons” in exchange for spyware.

You do not need to spy on me to find out what I’d be likely to pay for, or pay more for. I told you…craft stores in that article, and all kinds of other stores, weekly, on Yougov. You need to listen when your customers tell you things like, in the case of Hobby Lobby, restocking the wide range of name-brand items skilled professional crafters buy, which was what made your store a big chain, and phasing out the store brands and losing most of the bulky prefab junk.

But I really felt moved to write this after noticing how instinctively I scrolled up or down to keep the part of an article that displayed beside an ugly image off my screen. [That article was at a magazine site where I was doing research for a paid article, earlier this week.]

First of all, even when pictures are pretty, and I like a pretty picture as much as anyone else does–pictures do not really work all that well with computers. Computers are all about numbers. They seem to convert those numbers into letters and punctuation marks fairly efficiently. They are less efficient with pictures. Any kind of graphic on a web site eats up memory, which with some computers, or with some research I do where I open ten different windows at once, is in short supply.

Also, since I visit a web site for the words, any picture that’s not directly related to the real content–the text–is clutter.

And if the picture is ugly, I have to wonder: Are you trying to sell anything–in which case the ugly-ad campaigns are certainly not succeeding–or just trying to sabotage the web site that’s hosting your ad?

The ugly ad I have in mind was yet another of that endless series of ads that presumably try to market something related to health and fitness–note that I’ve never even wanted to find out what–by shoving pictures of underdressed obese people in prospective customers’ faces.

What could the point possibly be? Everybody has already seen obese people. I’ve never reacted to the sight of an obese person with the thought, “I want to buy something.” I react to the sight of people like the models and cartoons in these ads with “What a pity that that person has a disease; I can’t do anything else for her/him but at least I don’t have to look.”

If you’re trying to sell the idea of health and fitness, why, for logic’s sake, are you not showing images of health and fitness? Why do you want me to think “I don’t have to look” instead of “Wow, that looks like fun!” Where are the images of sleek healthy people running, swimming, dancing, throwing frisbees, doing gymnastics moves, playing sports, sailing, surfing, riding bicycles, frolicking with dogs or horses or children, or even painting their own walls? Do the soda pop commercials of my youth own all the video clips of beautiful bodies in motion?

And, although a computer screen puts enough strain on the eyes without filling the screen with the kind of huge words and tiny print that characterize medical journals, we need a happy medium on the chumminess, too. Yes, the general tone of web sites and e-mails is usually casual. “Casual,” however, should mean collegial among adults, rather than cutesy-wutesy, heavy-handed adult-to-the-dear-little-kiddies.

I read a fair amount of legal and medical material, and some technical material, that’s not edited down for the layperson. I’d be happier with some of it, and think doctors, lawyers, and engineers might also be happier with some of it, if it weren’t quite so specialized…maybe run past an intern? But I’d rather stretch my mind, if necessary, to absorb something aimed at graduates and interns in a different field, than try to squash myself down into a kindergarten-sized desk or the cognitive equivalent of one.

You are not “my best friend,” and you sound more like someone I might someday want to call a friend if you bear that in mind. Like that batch of blog tips at the top of the page. Does my content, shall we say, reek? I think some of it does. But how would you know, Sheownsit writer? Have you read any of my content? I don’t think so. You’re posting generic complaints about online writing generally; by and large those complaints describe some other sites more accurately than they do mine. So why are you picking a fight with a description of my content that automatically generates a reaction like “Hah! At least I know that to ‘hock’ something means to pawn it, and to ‘hawk’ it means (among other possible things) to market it with raptor-like aggressiveness…what do I have to learn from you?”

I’m not a Positive Thinker; I prefer to deal with things I don’t like in the real world, rather than try to live in a feel-good fantasy world. But when you’re selling things, why would you want me to perceive those things as things I’m not going to like, even before I find out exactly what they are?

Why weren’t those blog tips titled “Why We Like These Sites” or “Five Things I Wish Some Writers Would Learn”?

Why aren’t those fitness ads showing images of bodies the customers might want to look like?

Why, even if you persist in the delusion that all e-mail users are men, would you cast aspersions on our (or our mates’) “manhood”?

Do yourselves a favor, advertisers. Rent the classic Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang. This time, instead of fast-forwarding to the scenes with the pretty girl in them, pay attention to the part everybody wants to skip, where Eddie Murphy’s character bungles his job. Then watch it again and pay attention to why nobody wants to pay attention to that part. Then ask yourselves: “We say we learn things ‘visually’ and yet, as long as this movie’s been out, we’re still making the same stupid mistakes this comedy character made in 1992? What has been going on?”