retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I got the following email from MNB reader Tony Stanton, which he said was "an open letter to Jeff Bezos":

Dear Jeff,

I had an opportunity to visit your much anticipated and newest store in Murietta, California yesterday afternoon. Here is what I encountered.

At the front door there was only a rent-a-cop security person to answer questions on how to proceed into your store. He was overwhelmed. Clients were confused on what turnstile to pass through. None of us understood what we were to swipe to gain access. An AF employee showed up as the line grew out the door. He asked people if they had the AF app on their mobile phones. I think most did not. I did not. So I decided to pass through the single turnstile for the technologically challenged. The woman in front of me tried to access through the same turnstile. But it would not open. Your AF employee asked her to step back and try again. She did and still nothing. Your AF employee asked her step aside, then asked me to attempt to pass through with my cart in front of me. EUREKA! Success. The woman then scooted in behind me (sans cart) before the gate closed behind her. May I suggest that you hire a few more greeters for OUTSIDE the front door where they can welcome newbies like me and answer their questions. Inside the entrance lobby is way too small to do that. Were I an impatient man, I might have turned around and gone home. But curiosity got the best of me. Moving on.

My next impression was that I had just walked into the darkest store I had ever been into. Black on black on steroids. Black walls, black ceiling, black fixtures, black employee uniforms. I'm 69 years old and my vision has been compromised over time. I need light and a lot of it to see most anything these days. Black doesn't help me or others my age with vision issues. And black isn't exactly uplifting or encouraging. Matter of fact it's pretty depressing. Moving on.

Now I'm on the hunt for a couple of your advertised Grand Opening specials. Hold onto your seat Jeff, it's going to be bumpy ride. I know this is only Day Two of your first week and I shouldn't expect everything to be running smoothly. However, this is not your first store or your first store Grand Opening and yes everything and everyone should be at the top of their game. Let's pick up some bananas. You price them individually, ala Trader Joe's. And each banana was individually displayed. Perfectly spaced apart. My first impression was "They've run out of bananas. So they are spreading them out to appear as they have not run out of bananas." (I'm talking to myself, as I sometimes do. Did I mention that I'm 69 years old). Moving on.

Next, on to the bakery. I'm looking for the advertised cakes. Mom wants a cake for Mother's Day. Sorry, but you've run out of the cakes on special. I ask an employee, who is sampling mashed potatoes next to the bakery, if he knows if there is a display of the cakes elsewhere in the store. Nope. Moving on.

Off to frozen foods, ice cream specifically. I'm looking for your house brand at $1.99 per pint. Pretty good deal. I found one pint of chocolate left on the shelf. All other flavors, sold out. I asked an AF employee who was restocking ice cream if there were any more of the blueberry flavor in stock. She did a quick scan of the barcode and indeed there were eight left in back stock. Great. I'm really impressed at the speed she was able to check inventory in real time. She said she would grab them just as soon as she finished restocking the ice cream novelties she had on her cart. "Wouldn't want them to melt.", she said. No of course not. Melted ice cream, not good. Jeff, are you still holding onto your seat? While she went to the backroom I went around the corner in search of other stuff. And I found bagged ice cubes. Ummm? Maybe I should buy a bag. Our ice maker is on the fritz and Mom likes her evening martinis ice cold. With bag in hand I returned to the ice cream section only to find your AF employee had restocked the ice cream I wanted and the vultures had swept in and took all but one pint. I quickly grabbed the lone pint. Squish. Soft ice cream. Partially melted. Oh Jeff, say it isn't so. An AF employee couldn't feel the difference between a frozen solid pint and a pint partially melted. I took it anyway. My niece loves everything blueberry. Maybe the bag of ice will keep the ice cream from melting any more on the way home. Moving on.

Off to the checkout line. I had not installed the Amazon Fresh app onto my mobile phone. Not a problem. Only one guy in front of me. Happy to wait. But here is what occurred right in front of me. Three middle school aged girls, hands full of chips, sodas and candy bars, came up behind me and leaned over the counter and asked the cashier "Do you take cash? Do we have to sign up to buy this?" As I was turning towards the exit I overheard the cashier begin to explain how the checkout process went. Now I saw everything come full circle. Poor engagement at the front door on how things worked lead to the cashier having to take time out from processing paying customers. Kinda defeats the whole concept of contactless checkout doesn't it? This revolution in grocery store technology just went over the heads of a young (and I assume tech savvy) generation.

Good luck, Jeff.

Sincerely,

Anthony Stanton, Amazon Prime Member

This is a brand new store.  A common phrase comes to mind, though it is one that may not have been absorbed by the folks at the new Amazon Fresh store:

"You only get one chance to make a first impression."