In my local supermarket over the weekend I noticed something I had not seen or perhaps not noticed before. On the shelf I was expecting to relieve of my weekend beer was a propped up sign saying “We are sorry your choice is not available. We are doing all we can to make this product available once again”. Oh, how very pleasant but I am still disappointed.
This well known brand of premium beer should be available 100% of the time, whatever the weather. As summer starts to build up towards a 40+ degrees peak in August more and more beer will be consumed on a daily basis so every empty shelf is a lost sale. You cannot imagine a thirsty consumer seeing an empty shelf and saying “never mind, I’ll drink double tomorrow to make up for not drinking today”. No, it is not going to happen so I like many others simply took a different brand of beer from another brewer.
At least the apologetic sign is in place to reassure you that next time there may be some stock available but this does not really help. Somewhere along the supply chain from brewery to 3PLP to distributor/retailer platform to retail back of store to shelf an error has been made.
Some may argue that the appearance of the world’s greatest drinks salesman was unexpected and demand exceeded supply but that is not good enough for premium brands. Producers put so much cash behind the development and promotion of brands that a lost sale should be considered a quasi-disciplinary offence. The error may also sit in the retailer system but you should be on top of that.
This brings me to the next frustration of the weekend. Not a face to face experience with a retailer but an interaction with a vending machine. These things used to be very simple but now some of them are around the size of small caravan and incorporate chillers, heaters and humidity control. In fact it is entirely possible that someone lives inside to restock the machine shelves on demand.
Choice is fairly limited to drinks, snacks, chocolates, biscuits and the odd sandwich but at least you can see what is available. (However, I was very impressed with the book vending machine on the underground in Bucharest recently.) In a vending machine, if the lane is empty then you know that whatever was there is not available or the resident vending logistics man has just popped out for a smoke. The disappointment is the same but as you need something to keep the hunger/thirst pangs at bay you choose something else.
This is one of the most frustrating moments you can experience. Hot and sweaty and in need of a secret mix of water, sugar and caffeine I punch in the product code and then watch the spiral metal slowly propel my purchase – note, I have already paid, it is my property – to the dispensing edge. The can drops halfway and then gets stuck at an angle between another shelf and the glass screen front. Tactically I could invest in another can of fizz and potentially knock the other off but as my can, i.e. the one that I own, was the last one there is no chance of that.
When these machines were around the size of a large refrigerator they were easy to lift up and shake (eg, Lever Industrial Limited, Runcorn, 1984) until the jammed item and usually something else dropped into the drawer. This was a sort of BOGOF opportunity and great fun at the same time.
Possibly worse than seeing a polite out of stock notice is seeing the stock, paying for it and then have it dangle tantalisingly in front of your eyes behind 6mm of glass or Perspex. Either way, the consumer is unhappy and that can never be right, can it?