Check out a super idea for markets

February 28, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

WE LIVE in a society that fears change, so there's no telling how a revolutionary new plan to change the look of supermarkets will go over.

Nevertheless, such a plan is exactly what's being proposed in this space today.

Let's begin with this premise: People are OK with shopping in a supermarket as long as it's the one they usually shop in and they know where everything is.

But once they go into an unfamiliar supermarket, their stress levels go through the roof.

Suddenly, their minds are a jumble of questions.

Where's the milk? Which aisle has the jalapeno peppers? The bakery -- is it in the front of the store or the back?

Soon, what you have on your hands is an irritated, half-crazed shopper racing a cart up and down the aisles and barking questions at anyone stocking the shelves. ("The little foil holders for cupcakes -- WHERE ARE THEY?!")

OK, so that, basically, is the problem.

Now, how do we fix it?

Simple: We demand uniformity in supermarket layouts.

We, the grocery-shopping public, demand that no matter what supermarket you're in -- Mars, Giant, Super Fresh, etc. -- the layout is the same.

The milk will be over here, the jalapeno peppers will be over there, the little foil holders for cupcakes will be in another place -- but always the same place in each store.

As to exactly how this can be done, well, I've got that covered, too.

(Look, I am not going to propose something as bold and visionary as this unless the whole thing has been thought through, OK? This isn't some half-baked slots bill coming out of Annapolis. This thing has all the i's dotted and t's crossed, Jack.)

Here's the plan: All the products in a supermarket will be arranged in alphabetical order.

No, hear me out.

Those items that begin with the letter A -- antacid tablets, apples, artichokes -- would be located in the first aisle all the way to the left as you walk in.

The A aisle will blend seamlessly into the B aisle (baloney, bananas, bleach). And the B aisle will blend into the C aisle (cat food, cereal, cosmetics) and so on.

This will be especially convenient for anyone shopping for one or two items.

Do you know how irritating it is to dash into a store for, say, a box of raisins, only to spend 20 minutes wandering the aisles looking for the stupid thing?

This is why people are so nasty to each other.

Who wouldn't want to beat someone over the head after you just spent 20 minutes trying to find raisins?

Well, under my plan, those days are over.

In fact, once we get the supermarkets on board with this, I think you'll see a general trend of people being more civil to each other.

Also, not to brag, you'll probably see fewer people seeking counseling for stress and anger management.

Because, look, under my plan, when you go into a supermarket for raisins, you'd go straight to the R aisle.

And you'd know the R aisle would be located somewhere to the far right of the store as you enter.

So you wouldn't have to wander all over the store and risk having some ticked-off shopper slam into you with his cart because he's so preoccupied with trying to find, I don't know, toothpicks or evaporated milk.

Which would be in the T aisle and M aisle, respectively.

(No, evaporated milk would not be in the E aisle. In this case, you'd go by category type. Don't think too hard about this. Go with your first instinct.)

Anyway, the beauty of this plan lies in its simplicity, although selling it to the big retail grocery chains would probably be tough.

You know how those people are.

With them, everything is focus groups and product placement and traffic-flow patterns on the floor.

And all you want to do is find the raisins.

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