(Yes, you read that correctly.)
After I slipped and fell on one of an industrial black rug that had bunched up to become an accident waiting to happen and reacted by ranting like a raving lunatic, I realized that I had it with Loblaws.
Although the fall on the poorly maintained floor was the catalyst, the real issue is that, after a decade of increasing frustration with the chain, I realized that it’s time to change.
I’m switching to Walmart.
- Walmart’s prices are better. At their worst, the prices at Walmart are the same as at Loblaws but often, Walmart has lower prices than Loblaws.
- Walmart has a larger selection. Although Loblaws has small housewares and clothing sections, and the merchandise is trendy and well priced, the variety is limited. In contrast, Walmart has a full selection of items in its stores.
- Loblaws doesn’t even carry all of its PC products in any given store. One way Loblaws is trying to differentiate itself is through its PC brand products. But it doesn’t carry the full line in any store. So we often have to go to 2 or 3 Loblaws to get all of the items that we want. Once again, an effort intended to create loyalty only adds to the nuisance factor.
- The checkout experience is quicker at Walmart (1). Loblaws tries to minimize the number of workers in a store, always understaffing them. This is most evident at checkout, where lines routinely are 3, 4, or 5 people long (at least, at the times I go) because only 1 or 2 of 10 checkout lanes are open.
- The checkout experience is quicker at Walmart (2). In addition to understaffing checkout lanes, Loblaws purposely re-engineered the checkout experience to force customers to bag their own groceries.
Check for yourself.
At Walmart, Metro, and IGA/Sobey’s, the checkout counter is designed so that, immediately after an item is scanned, it can go directly into a waiting bag. The system has not changed in these stores since the massive introduction of reusable bags.
However, when reusable bags were introduced in a big way at Loblaws in the later 2000s, the company reengineered its checkout counters so that items are placed on a counter to be bagged later.
This is inefficient and the cashiers routinely try to avoid doing it.
So while they wait, frustrated customers bag their own groceries.
If customers do not bag their own groceries, the majority of cashiers start a staring match with customers to see who’s going to break first and start bagging.
But bagging groceries is part of the value proposition that Loblaws offers, so they should be doing it with a smile, not a scowl.
Look,I’m not under the false impression that Walmart is super quick. Lines can be long and, because of the breadth of the store offerings at Walmart, the typical basket tends to have more items. But I find that, even given this, Walmart offers a more efficient checkout experience.
- PC points—intended to foster loyalty—primarily fosters frustration. PC points looked like an interesting program. But too often, the scanner that’s supposed to read the cards “isn’t working” and the store, conveniently, cannot enter the card number on-site.
In other words, if you want your points, you have to make an extra effort to claim them.
The whole purpose of the PC points program is to help customers become more loyal to Loblaws. But when Loblaws’ approach to the program seems to suggest that they feel like they’re giving customers a gift and they want to make it as hard as possible for customers to claim it, it’s not a loyalty program; it’s a nuisance.
Once again, I recognize the problem is not unique to Loblaws. Its sister store, Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix occasionally has the same problem with its Optimum points card. In contrast, most American chains have a backup plan: register your card, provide a phone number, and the points can be credited on site. Loblaws does not seem aware of such an option.
- Before you start talking about Walmart’s unethical HR practices: consider the “ethics” of Loblaw’s weekend charity baggers. As mentioned earlier, the implied agreement between Loblaws and its customers is that it the Loblaws staff will bag groceries.
But as noted a moment ago, Loblaws has engineered its checkout lanes to make cashier bagging inefficient.
The solution: on weekends (the heavy traffic time), invite underage children representing a non-controversial charity—a sports team, a social action club—to do the bagging instead, and let customers pay a small donation for a service—over and above the fee they already pay.
It could be argued, however, that the charity baggers are actually doing work that Loblaws staff is supposed to be doing. This is essentially the same as an unpaid internship, in which students (young people like the charity baggers) do work that otherwise would have been paid.
Because the kids are performing work that otherwise would have been paid, it is considered—at the least—unethical—and possibly illegal.
And often, the kids doing the bagging are at or below the minimum age for employment.
On the one hand, I’m not trying to sound like a partisan crazy-person (though I admit, I probably do).
On the other hand, when one store understaffs itself and uses volunteer labor to perform work that once would have been paid, let’s not say it’s significantly more ethical than the store that actively resists unions. At least the latter store does a better job at maintaining proper staffing levels.
- Loblaws ignores customers comments. I have commented a few times on the situations raised here—and other, more specific instances—on the Loblaw’s website.
Admittedly, no one wants to respond to complaints.
But at least the complaints could be acknowledged: even airlines do that and even when they basically brush off the complaint. Loblaws’ doesn’t even have the minimal courtesy to brush off the complaint.
And as someone once observed, when a customer feels listened to, it makes the relationship so much better.
- Loblaws won’t even be Loblaws by the end of the year anyway. Loblaws has decided to rebrand all of its stores in Quebec as Provigo or Provigo Le Marche. Provigo LeMarche sports the new interiors of Loblaws piloted at the old Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. It’s admittedly a stunning store.
When Loblaws ran the two as separate stores, Provigo was more expensive. I’ve compared prices at Provigo LeMarche and, admittedly, they now seem to be the same as Loblaws. But slapping a new name and lowering prices while maintaining the same management and staff won’t change the service problems that are at the heart of my concerns.
- Why not IGA/Sobey’s or Metro? They’re lovely stores and frankly, I wish I could afford one of these on a regular basis. On the occasions when I do shop there, I notice that many items are higher than they would have been at Walmart or Loblaws. That’s why they’re not a contender for the business, especially in a year when food prices are expected to rise even further.
In other words, Walmart seems to more effectively deliver what it promises. Instead of trying to seduce customers with promises of quality products and service and delivering an understaffed store with spotty coverage of its own products like Loblaws, Walmart promises a no-nonsense experience and low prices. In my experience, Walmart has more consistently delivered on its promises than Loblaws.
So in this new year, instead of trying for one more year to suffer through an increasingly frustrating Loblaws, I’m going to do what many other Canadians and Americans have done: I’m shopping at Walmart.