Saturday, May 26, 2007

It was bad enough while the renovations were under way. I couldn’t find slippers, toothpaste, candles, garbage bags. It seemed every time I went looking, whatever I needed had been moved to some obscure corner.

I can only imagine how stressful it must be to have your house renovated now that I have lived through the rehab project at my grocery store.

It all started innocently enough with signs posted at the entries warning, “Excuse our dust while we renovate to serve you better.”

The dust seemed like a minor inconvenience because the goal was my ultimate happiness.

However, more than dust began to fly as the store’s reconstruction continued. Entire departments seemed to up and disappear, only to resurface weeks later with new flooring beneath their shelves and snazzy new signage hanging from the ceiling.

In the interim, shoppers like me wandered across the acres of our neighborhood superstore, looking in vain for housewares or health and beauty products while thinking, “How could they hide five aisles of small appliances? And why is the makeup next to the motor oil?”

Of course, the hidden message in this renovation project was, “You, Mrs. Consumer, aren’t spending enough money here in our store.” For this reason, the designers reorganized the place in an effort to force me to make more unplanned purchases while pointlessly meandering through misplaced merchandise.

At one point, I thought maybe I would track down the store manager and complain, “Who do you think you’re kidding? I’m on to your tactics, and you can’t make me impulsively spend money just because you spread the merchandise from here to East Gyblip.”

I never made it to the manager’s office because I was too busy noticing the wool socks on clearance, right above the Easter decorations marked down by 75 percent.

The store has been manipulating me this way for years. Back when my children wore diapers and drank formula, I walked the equivalent of three city blocks making my way from Isomil to Pampers. Baby wipes? Those were next to the shampoo aisle, conveniently located in the next county.

Naturally, searching for all of these items forced me to cross repeatedly through — that’s right — the baby clothes.

Who could resist fresh bibs and booties while crisscrossing the store to find necessities? It was retail trickery.

I have to admit, though, the renovation really did improve things. When the dust finally settled, I realized the store had added a Starbucks and a nail salon — not that I’d ever have my toes done at the grocery store. For some reason, that takes “one-stop shopping” a bit too far. Still, it looks nice.

So why am I still honked off about the retail renovation project? Two words — words that mean my shopping experience is irrevocably changed, words that further illustrate the point that marketers will not leave me alone: video screens.

That’s right; enormous, flat, high-definition video screens have been hung from the rafters throughout my grocery store. The programming is disguised as “health and nutrition information,” but seriously, how many folks need to watch a video in the produce department to know how to identify a ripened cantaloupe?

The screens throughout the store aren’t even the worst, most offensive marketing ploy incorporated into the renovation plan. No, that distinction would go to the video panels that have been installed at every checkout lane.

And what emits from the 37 screens perched in a perfect row above the checkout lanes? More ads, as if the overflowing grocery cart on which I lean isn’t indicative enough of my willingness to buy stuff. In between the ads aren’t TV shows but promotions for TV shows from ABC via its new “retail channel.”

Worse yet, while standing in line waiting to pay more than I should for my cart full of items — many of which I didn’t intend to purchase when I walked in — I’m subjected to mindless celebrity chat from such noteworthy yet “down-to-earth” folks as Jennifer Garner discussing how she juggles her roles as wife, mother and working woman.

Um, Jennifer? One way you juggle those roles is that you’re not standing in line at the grocery store checkout watching inane videos of celebrities while waiting to pay for the food you won’t unload from your van and place in your kitchen cupboards.

To be fair, before the installation of the annoying video monitors, I seem to recall seeing tabloid photos at the checkout of Miss Garner leaving a convenience store, so maybe she does shop occasionally. Nevertheless, her life is not exactly representative of the working-mom experience.

I guess I just have to accept that there’s no escape from the media monster. Even at the grocery store, I’ll endure previews of “Grey’s Anatomy” and recycled segments of “Good Morning America,” punctuated by commercials for more items I don’t need. I know I’m being manipulated, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

Then again, I can always wait in line at Aisle 20 — the only lane that didn’t get a video monitor. It’s not candy-free, but in a cost-benefit analysis, I think I’m better off putting junky food in my body than junky media in my head.

Now if only I could find the photo department. Oh, well. It’ll turn up one of these days.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan — One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.mary or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@

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