Inventory Control

June 9, 2013

You may have heard on the radio that Amazon.com is trying to get into the grocery business. Given the narrow profit margins in food retailing, it’s impossible to imagine how they can do it without incorporating delivery charges that will make grocery shopping online considerably more expensive than the jaunt down to Goodrich, ELFCO or Meijer. I was sitting there thinking to myself, “Who would pay extra to shop on the Internet?” As both of my regular readers know, I already have enough trouble with robots.

And then I went shopping myself. I needed some blue socks, so I went down to TJMaxx and found a two-pack that suited me for eight bucks. And while I was down at the Lansing Mall, I decided to hop across the street to Meijer because I needed a new mouse for my computer. I picked out a snazzy cordless model in black, but as I was walking out of the electronics section, I noticed a red version of the same model that was on the clearance rack for eight bucks less. Not being particular about my mouse color, I put the black one back and put the red one into my cart. Then I headed all the way across the store to the cottage cheese.

I never go to Meijer without buying cottage cheese. Longtime readers of the blog know that I have a thing for cottage cheese. While I’m generally quite happy to food shop at a venue less corporate, I just can’t get the kind of cottage cheese that I crave at Goodrich or ELFCO. Whether Country Fresh or Horizon, that Dean Foods stuff is execrable. (It always feels good to find some excuse for using the word ‘execrable’ in the blog.) And even if I can understand that Michigan brand cottage cheese is offering both piquancy and texture that some gourmands appreciate, it’s not my cottage cheese. Frankly, I’m not sure what’s happened to cottage cheese since the rosy days of my youth, but most cottage cheese on grocery shelves these days is execrable. (Wow! Three appearances in a single paragraph!) But Meijer’s store brand is acceptable. Not as good as it could be, but worth eating.

So I get to the checkout, which already puts me in a bad mood. I absolutely hate self-service checkout and if you are at Meijer, it’s either self service or waiting behind someone who has $483 worth of groceries, mostly in items costing 60¢, $237 of coupons plus at least five certificates that require the signature of someone who has come in from corporate headquarters in Grand Rapids on a helicopter. I actually do go through a human-powered checkout line on this particular day, but when my mouse comes up, it turns out that I’m charged full price. The Meijer price computer has apparently not been informed about the difference between black and red. Now, I think about this for a minute and I decide that the hassle I would be put through to claim my clearance price is just not worth the eight bucks I would save. Someone would have to come up to the register from electronics, and after that someone would have to be flown in from Grand Rapids to approve the paper work. So I just don’t say anything about it. My new red mouse sits near my right hand as I type this, and it works fine.

However, on my way out of the store, lights start flashing and sirens start blaring. Everyone turns and looks at me with that “well, we’re withholding judgment for now, but if you are a shoplifter you are about to get what you deserve” kind of look that is unique to the upper Midwest. Southerners never look at you that way, but I think that this is a tangent that needs to be set aside for another time and place. So the friendly greeter who says, “Welcome to Meijer!” when you walk in reveals his true purpose and asks to see my bag. He rapidly concludes that I am not trying to steal cottage cheese and goes straight for the mouse. I, of course, have a receipt to show that I have just charged the full, undiscounted non-clearance price for this red mouse to my Discover card. It’s now between me and Discover as to whether I eventually pay for it, so that’s not his problem. He tells me to have a nice day and turns off the siren.

Well, I would like to have a nice day, but the triple burden of enduring the Meijer check-out process, the failure to deliver a promised eight dollar savings and then the sirens has sort of put me off my game. Then when I get home, I discover that the blue socks from TJMaxx still have one of those giant plastic inventory control tags attached to them. I don’t know how I was able to get out of TJMaxx without flashing lights and sirens, but there it is. These tags cannot be removed without a special tool. The pin is running right through the middle of both pairs of blue socks, so I don’t even have the option of pretending that the giant beige plastic inventory control tag is a hip accessory when I wear these socks. I can’t even get them over my feet while the tag is in place.

Now, if I’m not going to walk across a Meijer store to save eight bucks on a computer mouse, I’m sure not going to jump back into my car and drive back to TJMaxx to either get this tag removed or get the eight bucks I paid for the socks refunded. So industrious soul that I am, I decide to remove the tag with a hacksaw. I will report that the hacksaw does in fact cut through the little metal pin that holds the giant beige plastic fob in place. Unfortunately, you can’t really execute this task without also making a rather nasty hole in all four socks. These inventory control devices really do work.

So this is another one of those Sunday blogs that says a lot more about me than it does about food ethics, but I’m sitting here thinking that I should have sixteen more bucks in pocket than I currently do, and I still need a pair of blue socks. Where’s that link to Amazon.com? I hope they have cottage cheese.

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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