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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Supermarket Operations

I went to my local Safeway again. I often question why I still shop there. The answer is it's close by and easy to get to. The problem is they're always out of half the things I want. I mean, it's not like I'm in there looking for some kind of exotic French cheese that is made one wheel at a time by a hermit in a cave. I'm going in there for yoghurt and peanut butter. And beer. This upsets me, when they don't have Guiness (Extra Stout) in stock. It especially upsets me when it's on sale and they're out of stock. But it really, really upsets me when the same 4 bottles in a six-pack carton are all that's in there for the second week in a row. Why can't they get things right?

If I wanted to get everything I was shopping for I'd have to find out when they stock each particular item and get there when they're stocking the shelves. Otherwise the odds are against me. If you sell that much yoghurt or peanut butter in a day, maybe you could restock more than once a day. I can hear the managers and executives now telling me why this isn't possible, but wait, I'm the customer and I have other options. One day I will be pushed over the edge and just stop shopping in your store, and I'll tell everyone I know not to shop there. Maybe one customer doesn't mean much to you, but with the competition in the supermarket business being what it is, I don't think you can afford to lose even one customer.

I might just consider myself ignorant and get over it, but in one of the most influential books on the Lean management system (Lean Thinking, by James Womack & Daniel Jones) the authors use an example of Tesco, a supermarket chain in the U.K. for how Lean works to improve operations. If they can do it, why can't Safeway? I'm sure there are lot's of things that can be done, even given whatever constraints they have, to improve their operations and keep the shelves stocked on a more consistent basis.

1 comment:

Joy Montgomery said...

Supermarkets provide a great illustration of inventory management and customer service failures. The produce warehouse operation for Lucky Stores over 20 years ago was a beautiful thing.

Here's a link for you: