Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dave gets Grumpy: Carts at Food Basics

Because Sally kindly loaned me her car this afternoon, I was able to load up my plastic bins and reusable bags and go grocery shopping somewhere outside the neighbourhood. I decided to try a Food Basics. I've never been there before but I gathered that they claim to have low prices. I like low prices.

I pulled into the parking lot and walked up to the store with my load of bins and reusable bags. Walking past a cart return area, I noticed that the carts had those little chain things that some stores used to use where you deposit a quarter so that you'll return the cart to the cart area instead of stealing it or leaving it somewhere in the parking lot. Then I saw someone actually return a cart and slip the chain from the cart in front of hers to get her quarter back.

I checked my pocket and discovered I had no change at all. The cart return area at the front had only one cart. I'll grab that, I thought. But before I could get to the free cart, a guy ripped out of the store and conjoined his cart with it.

I swore to myself and walked back to the car. Then I thought, come on, they must have a way to give you a cart when you don't have a quarter. Some sort of key thing. And just because they don't trust you to be civilized with their carts doesn't mean you should drive to another store.

So I walked back to the store. Just behind the cart area I spotted four young fellows in green Food Basics golf shirts. "Is there any way I can get a cart without a quarter?" I asked.

"Best bet would be ask one of the ladies at the courtesy desk," said one of them in a tone of voice that rubbed me the wrong way.

"I'll just shop somewhere else." I turned around, walked back to Sally's car, put the bins and bags in the trunk and drove to a store a good ways further down Carling where the prices were probably higher but the carts were free for the taking.

My decision to drive away from Food Basics was about being pissed off and showing it, but I stand by my decision.

First, I'd rather not shop where the first message upon arrival is that I am not to be trusted with a shopping cart. I've been carefully returning grocery carts to the proper area for more than 30 years. You don't have to hold 25 cents of mine to get me to do that. Even when I'm grumpy or in a hurry.

Second, perhaps I'd have walked in to the courtesy desk and they'd have had a cart right there for me. But perhaps I'd have had to wait in line for ten minutes behind other people with problems and then had to endure more waiting or humiliation because I didn't happen to carry a quarter with me.

Third, the lack of helpfulness of the four young men outside the store and the tone of the fellow who answered suggests to me that other interactions with the staff there might have been similarly useless or annoying.

[By the way, I'd have sent them an email about this, but they only let you contact them with one of those contact forms and their form just adds to my grumpiness.]


RealGrouchy said...

It feels good to be able to afford exercising one's dignity, doesn't it? I do it myself, though I also try to show appreciation for good customer service.

Like telemarketing companies' treatment of their workers, they don't put much effort into making your time there comfortable, because they know that you wouldn't be there unless you have to be (even if you want to). Food Basics probably doesn't care if they lose David Scrimshaw's occasional business.

At the same time, if all grocery stores increased service and raised prices to match, it might push more people to the food bank. Some people probably appreciate the dignity of being able to buy their groceries, even if it is from Food Basics.

One of those uncomfortable social dilemmas; thanks for broaching it.

- RG>

Aggie said...

You did the right thing, David Scrimshaw. Obstacles to consumption-- who needs them?

Chelle said...

Food Basics is the abyss into hell... well the Barrhaven one is, anyway. I went into one for a total of 4 minutes before I knew it was not going to be a good idea to shop there (stinky and weird atmosphere, it's like stepping into a 3rd world grocery store full of glaring people)... not even a week later it was robbed at gunpoint.

Also, I (think I) know you meant the Carling Loblaws. The problem with that one is that there are so many people in it that they actually run out of food and it takes an hour to get through.

Sobey's is where it's at. Free carts, good prices AND they sell wine. *high five*

There is my Ottawa grocery store rundown.

Chelle said...

Note- The Barrhaven one wasn't robbed... I think it was the Carling one, actually.

In any case, my point is that I don't trust that their employees don't pick their noses.

xup said...

I agree with Chelle about Food Basics -- it's kind of the Value Village of food; smelly, full of weird stuff and an atmosphere and customer service practice that lulls you into believing it must be cheaper than real stores. And then it's not. I hope you get some answers about the cart thing because I can't figure out what the point of that 25 cent deposit is except to make you feel small

David Scrimshaw said...

I had no idea that Food Basics had all this social demographic context behind it. It being the Value Village of grocery stores makes me want to go there.

[And for the sake of clarity, my experience yesterday did not involve a Loblaws.]

Anonymous said...

In our small city there is no charge for carts at the two Food Basics stores. However, there is at the No Frills store which is affliated with Independent Grocers. I seldom shop at No Frills, just too darn complicated. Farm Boy and Your Independent Grocer are the "go to" stores here. Prices may be a tad higher but well worth it.

xup said...

I love Value Village and shop there often and I shop at Food Basics sometimes, too and probably would more often except that it's out of the way. Just because something's weird and smelly doesn't mean we should stay away

Aggie said...

I'm with you on the weird and smelly thing, XUP. And, VV, too.

salonsally said...

I think it's funny how there are 9 comments, well, 10 now - in 2 days. These kind of things get is riled up. These are the things that matter! I would have been turned off by those snotty boys as well. I've shopped there and it was kind of icky - kind of: you get what you pay for.

Oh - and I didn't know we had Sobey's in Ottawa. Thougth that was an eastern thing.

Chelle said...

Not so much Value Village... maybe more like a Russian bread line.

David Scrimshaw said...

Hey, guess where I went for my last minute groceries for Canada Day Brunch? Food Basics.

But not the one on Carling.

They had the stupid quarter gizmos. But even though I brought a quarter with me, I found a loose cart in the corral.

A guy who returned his cart as I arrived couldn't get his quarter back. His wife came over and after struggling for a couple of minutes managed to pop it out.

I have to say. I was very happy in the store. They had 1-litre cartons of mango nectar for $1.29. I bought 4.

The broccoli was so cheap it was all gone.

I've been in many third-world grocery stores and this was way nicer than any of them except maybe the fancy one at Majestic City in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Hannah said...

You are one of the good people who return the carts, but there are far too many slobs out there who leave carts all over the place! Its unfuriating!

What all grocery stores should do is install locks on the wheels so they don't work outside the periphery of the store and parking lot.

Ottawa@Home.Dad said...

The first time I shopped the FB at Carling @ Kirkwood I had the same reaction to the quarter-locky things: what, do they really think I'll steal the cart?

But after coming back on other occasions, I realized that it was not really about stealing the carts, it was about getting people to put their carts back. It would seem that most people (myself included) will put their carts back in order to get their quarter back; or to put it another way, they refuse to pay $.25 to use a cart, without returning it. I think it's rather spooky that they have so clearly sussed out their customers' psychology in this way, but it's also brilliant.

I've taken to just keeping a quarter in the little change drawer in my car, that comes out to get the cart, and goes back once the cart is returned.

In at least one other location, Herongate plaza, they have addressed the cart theft problem by using the carts whose wheels lock up when you go outside of the prescribed usage area.

As for the FB shopping experience, it is a bit grim, minimalist, with industrial shelves, etc., like Price Chopper or Costco. The funny thing is that presumably once a store is built or renovated, apart from higher staffing costs, there is probably little difference in the operating costs of a Loblaws and a Food Basics of the same space. Rather, it is more a matter of style, people are more willing to pay a bit more for the cheerier atmosphere of the newer Loblaws stores, versus Food Basics stores that seem to have been designed to express barebones-ness, that helps to confirm the message that you really will be paying less.

In practice FB is often far cheaper for everyday-priced staples, such as flour, bread, yogurt, etc., and frequently has great sales on produce.
Some of the items for sale are a bit weird, but I think part of that is because they are more inclined to stock foreign food products that may seem unfamiliar, but are the preferred brands of the many cost-concious new Canadians who shop there.

Anonymous said...

I went to Food Basics for the first time today. There was no lock on the carts and I bagged a few things without the cashier charging me. I didn't know they did that at some. It was an interesting store. The prices are way cheaper than my usual Shop Rite. What was bothersome were the glaring shoppers and the cashier making weird snot noises.