Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

A few thoughts on grocery shopping and holiday crowds

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Earlier today, I went grocery shopping. Between the restrictive German opening regulations (yesterday/Sunday closed; tomorrow/holiday closed) and the event character that New Year’s has for many, it was very, very crowded. This was made the worse by people having failed to make (or adhere to) some basic observations/guide-lines that any adult shopper should be long aware of:

  1. Never leave a shopping cart standing by its own: Unattended shopping carts are a great cause of “traffic” and access problems, and it is much better to move with the shopping cart.

    Notably, a typical aisle is roughly half-blocked (some entirely) by a shopping cart, which implies (a) that other shoppers can only pass in one direction at a time, (b) that people have to forego the contents behind the cart entirely, (c) people either have to forego the contents on the other side of the aisle too or they will cause the entire aisle to be blocked.* A moving cart, in contrast, will soon be gone (making the issue temporary in any given place) and it poses no obstacle to “two-way” traffic.

    *Some relief can be found through moving the cart forwards or backwards; however, in crowded situations, there is not always much room to do so. Personally, I am also loathe to move other peoples cart by more than a nudge or two, unless they are severely misparked—it has always struck me as rude.

    In a twist, unattended shopping carts can sometimes cause a chain-reaction, because an unattended cart has made it impossible for another shopper to reach a certain spot without leaving his cart behind.

    For those who insist on leaving their carts around, at least make sure that the cart is parked as close to one side of the aisle and as parallel to it as possible, and that it does not protrude into e.g. a “cross-aisles”.

    (Foregoing a shopping cart entirely is an option, but it is not always practically possible, and the additional gain compared to not parking the cart seems small.)

  2. Similarly, try to keep moving as much as possible and try to not be unduly slow: Slow movers slow others down and increase the risk of blockages. Standing around to look in detail at various products, especially in groups and/or with carts, causes similar problems as above. By all means, shop consciously and make comparisons, but adjust your behavior to the degree of crowdedness and the importance of the decision—which of several low-end sekt bottles to buy is not worth five minutes of discussion between three people.*

    *While I did not time them, I did see a group of three people having exactly this discussion for what must have been a somewhat longish time: I co-incidentally passed them by on two occasions with several minutes in between. (And, yes, we are talking the likes of “Rotkäppchen”—not expensive Champagne brands.)

  3. Do not bring family/group members that are not needed (at least on crowded days): Not only is every extra person an additional burden on space, but people who move in groups tend both to form obstacles in a different manner than the same number of people moving individually, and to move a lot slower on average (cf. above; note that the slowest individual sets the tempo for the entire group).

    As a special case: Do not bring small children (in general) and small children in a prams (in particular), unless there is no other option.*

    *On non-crowded days, this would apply for another reason—the undue amount of noise that they so often make. If you do bring small children, make sure to silence crying and whatnot as swiftly as possibly. To just let children cry out loud without reacting, as some parents do in at least Germany, is inconsiderate towards the rest of the world and poor parenting towards the children.

  4. While the above items deal with how to reduce the impact of a crowd,* there is also the matter of reducing the crowd, it self. For instance, those who shop faster will make the crowd smaller once they are gone; those who can manage to go on an earlier day** will distribute the crowd more evenly; etc. Such planning has the additional advantage of directly benefiting the planner, himself. (While the earlier items help others; with the hope that others will also adhere to them, and thereby give a benefit in return.)

    *Whether a shopper or a shopping cart is currently moving or standing still does not (or only marginally) affect the amount of space taken. However, those that move still cause a smaller disturbance (as surprising as it might seem).

    **Admittedly not always easy: Forego shopping today, and there is a three-day stretch without shopping, with the first prior opportunity being a Saturday (which tends to be fairly crowded even on ordinary days, and was likely much worse than usual due to New Year’s). Forego the Saturday too, and it is a four-day stretch. Over this year’s Christmas, with both the 25th and the 26th being German holidays, the corresponding stretch was four resp. five days (foregoing the 24th, resp. the 24th and the 22nd/Saturday). While these time periods are by no means unsurmountable, they are suboptimal for those with no freezer and a small fridge, on the long side for many “fresh” items, and increase the risk of something unexpectedly running out—let alone the risk that some event-specific item has been forgotten.

    Here we can also see a vicious circle: The increase of the crowd increases the amount of time the individual shoppers need, which increases the crowd, which …

  5. Try to show some degree of awareness of other shoppers and how you might currently impede them: Even on non-crowded days, one or two people who ignore the rest of the world can be a severe hindrance. Cf. an older text on women and awareness of surroundings.

As a similar advice to store-managers/-staff: Try to limit activities like stocking shelves to the absolute minimum in crowded situations. If a shelve is about to run out of whatever it contains,* do re-stock—but save the “routine” stocking until the crowd has abated (or do it before the crowd comes). Also try to do this ad-hoc re-stocking with as few and as small carts as possible (cf. the shopping-cart discussion above).

*Not only will greater crowds increase the risk in general, but “special-day” crowds will be disproportionately likely to go for the same items. Some standard items, e.g. milk, could conceivably need multiple re-stockings even on a regular day. Correspondingly, not re-stocking at all is a bad idea.

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Written by michaeleriksson

December 31, 2018 at 5:54 pm

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