Sunday, 20 May 2018

Shopping trolley hassle

We've been hearing reports for a long time now that the budget supermarkets - like Lidl - are gaining ground among shoppers in general, and among shoppers with an eye to lower prices in particular. This is bound to continue, of course. But if low price isn't the overriding concern, then one will shop elsewhere, for particular reasons.

I'm one of those who can afford to do this. I go to Waitrose, and not Lidl.

Of course I'm conflicted about it. It's daft to pay more than necessary for an everyday item. On the other hand, I do get something worthwhile for the extra money. I get decent, supervised parking; a pleasant, well-organised and very well-stocked shopping environment; extra-helpful staff who seem brighter and more cheerful than most; at least some offers to counteract the generally steeper prices asked; and, overall, an upmarket experience in which I feel valued as a customer. In my local Waitrose, at least, my face is known, and some members of staff even know my name - which is pretty good for a national supermarket. I'm not saying I haven't had a delightful reception elsewhere, but Waitrose has been, over the years, consistently welcoming.

Cynics may say, 'Oh, you're just a snob. You like Waitrose because only your sort of person shops there. Well-dressed, polite, middle-class foodies who went to good schools, speak well, know about the finer things in life, and have secure jobs or ample pensions. People with no conscience, who will never have to use a food bank. People who voted for Brexit because it will make no difference to their standard of living. People who always vote Conservative. Smug, complacent people who don't have to watch every penny.' I can hear it muttered, like the faint but menacing drone of angry bees.

But I deny being such a snob, nor a deserving victim of proletarian violence, come the Day of the Glorious Revolution!

There is, however, something in that sneering jibe. There's a social-layering thing going on. Birds of a feather flock together. I will risk seeming non-PC by asserting that the British Class System is alive and well in every one of the country's retail outlets. Even in 2018. And not just in Waitrose, but in ASDA too (at what you might call the populist end of the retail spectrum).

I think it's all wrong, and old-fashioned. I was teenage in the 1960s, the decade in which we all became classless and free, and the old social bonds were broken with flowers and sex and rock music. Well, supposedly. But like all persistent religious and sectarian differences, it's there, it hasn't gone away, and it has to be acknowledged.

Every local chamber of commerce and every local estate agent knows about the 'Waitrose Effect' - that the opening of a Waitrose store in a town gentrifies the area, be it otherwise ever so ordinary, and has a knock-on effect on local house prices and the attractiveness of the town as a place to live in, which can only assist other businesses. Opening a new ASDA, or Morrisons, or Sainsbury's, or Tesco, doesn't have quite the same impact.

But you do pay a price if you shop at Waitrose. It's definitely more expensive! I notice that immediately, if ever I'm holidaying in an area where I must use an alternative. But it's also very pleasant and serene, and they sell all the nice things that I want to buy under one roof.

And in Waitrose, you can escape all those garish notices on every aisle that bombard you with 'SAVE MONEY!!!' offers. There's no background X-Factor music, no kids scream, and there are no bickering dour-faced parents in sloppy sports clothing and trainers. Everybody is considerate and well-mannered. Nobody darts suspicious, resentful glances at you, as if you were a thrill-seeking tourist, mixing with the common people.

I feel way out of my comfort zone in stores like ASDA - just as a down-and out on the street feels uncomfortable when people either stare at them, or - worse - look away in disgust, as if they are subhuman or even non-human.

Extreme language? I know am overdrawing the situation just a little. And you may think me rather too sensitive to atmosphere, too self-aware, too wary of people of dissimilar backgrounds and life-history. But I don't think that, all in all, I'm very different from most other people. Nearly everybody tends to seek out places where they feel the most welcome, where they fit in best, where they will be free of hassle.

As you must by now see, where I shop is as much determined by the social experience as by what they charge for their goods. There's nothing strange about that. Whether it's a foodstore, or a place to eat, or really anywhere that you spend money and get things in return, you will frequent the places that tick your own particular boxes, and avoid the ones that repel you.

And little things can matter. Anything, for instance, that seems inconvenient. Such as having to pay to use a trolley. 

In the past, some stores charged and others didn't. I'm talking about any store that made you put a £1 coin in a slot in order to free a shopping trolley from its chain. This was most annoying. What if one didn't have a handy £1 coin? Many people didn't, and you'd have to wait around while they dithered and searched their purses or pockets for the vital coin. What a time-waster! How very frustrating, when you want to grab a trolley, whiz inside, do a fast shop, and then go.

It was done to encourage the return of the trolley after unloading it at the car,  and not just dump the trolley in some far away corner of the car park, or a side-street. Who wouldn't want to get their pound back? I do see that. Trolleys are expensive items, and it's annoying for the shop if they aren't returned to the proper points.

Waitrose, I'm glad to say, did not impose a charge. But that's now changing.

When I went to my local Waitrose this week, I found the trolleys chained up, and a returnable £1 being asked for their use. It was lucky that I had the necessary coin in my bag. Now that I'm using Google Pay successfully - and so much - my usage of banknotes, and especially coins, has markedly decreased. In fact I rarely now have much more than three or four £1 coins on me, mainly for the odd parking situation. And not spending cash much means that I don't accumulate a lot of change in my little purse. The imposition of chained-up trolleys, which can be released only with a coin, seems a retrograde step to me!

I asked about it. Yes, it was to get customers to take their trolleys back to the designated collection-points for a £1 refund, and not leave them scattered around the car park. OK, fair enough. (A pity, though, that a more modern, electronic method of releasing the chain hadn't been adopted) And here I was, trying to go cashless, and Waitrose now requiring me to keep a coin handy.

Ah, said the lady on the Customer Service desk, I can sell you - for 99p - a pound-shaped metal Cancer Research token that will work in the trolley coin-slot. A token you can attach to this handy key fob. I bought one, of course, and attached it to the inside of my Cath Kidston shopping bag:

It worked as intended. A fairly neat solution, then - except that anybody who doesn't have one of these, nor a regular £1 coin either, is going to hold up everyone else. Sigh. 


  1. I was once very stuck for a coin for a trolly. On the spur of the moment we decided to try the Channel tunnel to return from Belgium pre Euro
    Stopping at a supermarket to buy some last minute food treats we had not a centime of French currency because we would use our card, trolly needed 10 francs.

    Simple, watch out for coupe with two trolleys piled high with crates of booze, they would be brits and happy to do a pound for francs deal...

  2. Oh yes, barter with other customers is indeed a solution. But you still need to hang around until the right coins are secured.


  3. Morrisons' trolleys used to accept my leftover euro coin. Well what else could I use it for? Now, though, along with our Co-op, they've ditched the £1 deposit altogether.


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