Many years ago, my great friend Madge, left me in tears of laughter following a rant about the new Supermarket that had just opened in town. It was ok, she said, but nothing was in the same place as it was in her local store.
“But, it’s a different shop,” I said.
“I know,” she pouted, “but I went in to look for a new pair of Marigolds yesterday and I went to exactly where they are when I go to Asda, and all I could find was cat food. Who puts cat food next to the water filters? Cat food goes next to the toilet rolls…”
I didn’t understand her bemusement and she didn’t understand my amusement and, as usual, it all ended up in helpless mirth. Very sadly, Madge is no longer with us, but I think about her every time I walk into a Supermarket and, of late, I have started to understand her point of view.
Now, I know that there is a science to the layout of Supermarkets: that the floorplans are designed, based on the principles established by Daedalus** two and a half thousand years ago, whilst the shelves are stacked by bright young things with BSc’s in leading the sheep to chocolate. But they do seem to have been taught in different schools: the school of putting the pasta next to the bread versus the school of putting it next to the cook-in sauces. The school of putting the Pot Noodles with the convenience foods versus the school of putting them with the scratchcards, King-size Rizlas, Peperami and Carlsberg Special Brew. Do you put together things that go together, or things that belong together? Do you put custard with the puddings, or do you put it with the sauces? Do you put pasta with the sauces, or do you put it with the garlic bread? Do you put bread with the butter, or do you put it with the Marmite? Where do you put toiletries? Where do you put magazines? Where do you put all of the cleverly designed, bright plastic gizmos that never quite manage to perform the task for which they were designed? I know that in the closing days of 2021, this really should not be an issue, but does layout depend on location? Do you, for instance, put the fresh organic pasta, next to the truffles and wild mushrooms in Kensington, on a shelf that would be occupied by Spaghetti Hoops in Burnley? Do you even attempt to sell tinned pasta in Chelsea, unless you have a specifically labelled ‘Ironically Stocked’ shelf to put it on? Do you put Vegan ready meals alongside the fresh fruit and veg, or alongside the herbal tea and artisan crafted toilet rolls in the ‘weirdo’ section?
I understand that the fresh fruit and veg always looks great and that it might lure people in because it is bright and colourful, but near the door? Really? Beautiful soft fruit, no matter how carefully placed in the basket, always ends up under the tins and bottles – ok, mostly bottles – accumulated through the rest of the shop. Surely that can’t be right: unless, of course, it is all part of the plan. Once bitten, twice shy? Having arrived home with a terminally flattened punnet of now strawberry puree, or a half litre of raspberry coulis dripping through the holes in what was formerly a nice, neat box, do you thenceforth bypass the fruit on the first sweep and return to it later, so that you can lay it safely on the top of your basket? Do you, in short, walk past everything twice? Aah, you’re getting it now. Walk around the maze in one direction (‘Always turn left’ my dad used to say, although, if I’m honest, I’m not certain that he ever really knew where he was.) reach the end and come back the other way, before picking up some berries and heading for the tills. You wander past the cat food three times. By that stage you will grab a tin even if it means buying a cat on the way home in order to justify it.
I understand why they always put the items they want you to buy at eye level – who wants the eye strain involved in moving the things – but I do not know why everything I want is always out of reach at the back of the top shelf. Imagine you have a stand of five shelves: you put what you want the customer to buy where he/she does not have to look up, down, left or right to see it. You put the things that you don’t want them to buy – the budget versions – at foot level, and the niche products – ‘We don’t get much call for those round here’ – at ladder height. If you want to find a cheaper product, you don’t usually have to shop around, just stoop.
And then I start to think about Madge and I begin to understand what she was saying. Why can’t things always be in the same place? If nappies are by the formula milk powders in Tesco, why can’t they be in the same place at Asda? If the vegan meals are with the bamboo utensils in Morrison’s, why not in Sainsbury’s? If Aldi has the wonky carrots next-door to the cordless hammer-drills, why doesn’t Lidl? If the chocolate is not alongside the whisky anywhere, then it bloody well should be. As you get older, the only thing you want from a Supermarket is the ability to get out of it as quickly as possible. How quickly could you do the shopping if you didn’t have to pass so much that you don’t want, in order to get to what you do? How little would you buy if you didn’t have to pass so much other stuff to find it?
Ah, now I understand…
*Where things should be.
**Daedalus designed the Labyrinth in order to contain the Minotaur and so cunning was his plan, that he could barely escape it himself after it was built. He was the same Daedalus who made wax and feather wings for himself and his son Icarus and managed, unlike his son, to survive as he did not succumb to the temptation to fly too close to the Sun. He also murdered his nephew because he thought that he was a better inventor than himself – e.g. using a good epoxy resin to hold the wings together and affixing a ‘Do not operate this equipment in the proximity of a broiling celestial body’ to the flight feathers…