Monthly Archives: January 2007

Shoe biz

As a rule, I only ever buy shoes that I can run in.

Unlike the average girl, I own very few pairs of shoes. Six pairs, in fact. Included in this collection are a pair of fuck-me-boots, stiletto knee-high leather boots, and a pair of really delicate heels.

Oddly, the only pair of shoes that I don’t think I could run in are my most conservative ones – my work shoes. My work shoes are black leather pumps with low heels. They don’t sound so bad, but if I tried to run while wearing them my heels would just slip out. They already do that sometimes when I walk.

At the end of my shifts on my first three days on checkout, the soles of my shoes were covered in reduced stickers. See, my supermarket has a policy that whenever we process an item that has a reduced sticker on it, we have to peel it off before it can leave the store. What you do with the sticker is up to you. In the first week I madly ripped off sticker after sticker and dumped them on the ground. There is a small disposal unit at each checkout, but it takes too long to throw in each individual sticker as you peel it off. By the second week, however, I tired of my shoes looking like a two year old’s paper collage, so I started sticking the redundant stickers to one spot of my checkout instead, dumping the pile when I had time or whenever it had grown to the size of a tuberose.

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting flats. My work shoes often make me hobble a bit after I’ve worn them for four hours. The first week was the worst – I got pins and needles in my feet after I eased out of the heels and into a pair of thongs.

So far, I’ve noticed three people at my store who wear the same shoes. Flat, black, rounded toes, with a thin black line over the front end of the open part of the shoe. They’re probably super comfy, but they don’t look very pretty.

But who am I to talk? My shoes aren’t particularly gorgeous or practical. Standing behind a checkout, however, at least no one can see my feet.

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This mess we’re in

I’m concerned about the future of Australian supermarkets and what it will mean for consumers. I’ve been troubled by this ever since the two major supermarket chains started to unleash with a frenzy their own branded products and replace familiar branded items with crude copies.

Years ago there was only really the basic homebrand range, with its products packaged in ubiquitous black and white or black and gold. I had never given much consideration to the homebrand range and its origins; I simply thought that it was produced by a private company. It was only when Insider started working at a supermarket that I learned that homebrand ranges are actually commissioned and owned by supermarkets but are produced by the supermarkets’ suppliers.

Last year, when I started working at the place I am now, I took a greater interest in all of this and in the behind the scenes details of supermarkets. Various sources informed me that what supermarkets do is they make their suppliers bid for the privilege/job of producing their homebrand products. So for instance, Brownes might bid against Harvey Fresh to be awarded the contract of producing supermarket X’s homebrand milk. The end result is that the winning supplier ends up competing against itself: the homebrand product they’ve produced sits on the shelf alongside their own labeled product, with each battling to be purchased by the consumer.

While it’s an undesirable situation for a supplier to compete with itself, the worse scenario is for a different supplier to be awarded the contract. Although it’s not totally in the supplier’s favour to produce homebrand items for a supermarket, they are at least creating another source of revenue. Better that it competes against itself than with another supplier that has “two” brands: its own and homebrand.

As I mentioned, in the past there was only really one homebrand range for each major supermarket. This single homebrand variety didn’t pose much of a threat to the other brands as it was clearly marketed as the cheapest, lowest quality alternative. In the past year, however, and particularly in the last six months, the two major supermarkets have innundated their stores with their own products. Not only does the range extend to nearly every type of item – from biscuits, to toilet paper, to fruit juice – but they have also released different tiers of homebrand goods. In addition to the cheap homebrand alternative, supermarkets now have a mid-range variety. In the near future, they will be releasing a third, top-quality variety as well. And because the supermarkets are not burdened with costs such as advertising for their homebrand items, they can afford to sell each tier of homebrand goods at markedly lower prices than the other branded items. This undercutting essentially allows supermarkets to dominate the market.

And that is what worries me. Scares me, even, at the aggressiveness and ruthlessness of the marketplace.

In the short term, the battle between the supermarkets and their suppliers will be beneficial to consumers. Competition – limited demand plus strong supply – assures that products will be cheaper than they otherwise would be if there were less competition. In the long run, however, supermarkets will overcome their suppliers and homebrand items will dominate. The basic logic of consumerism will lead to this outcome. Consumers will, and do, buy the cheaper alternative to a product that offers the same quality at a higher price. Soon enough, companies will be squeezed out of the market, and as they are, homebrand will be ready to fill the empty shelf space.

Once the supermarkets have complete dominance over their own supply, they will raise prices. By then, consumers will have no other option but to pay these prices because there will be no other alternative to homebrands.

What troubles me most is that there is very little that can be done to stop this from happening. While it is possible to predict what will happen in the future, we as consumers still act on a very short-term level. As I mentioned, the logic of consumerism drives us to continue buying the cheaper alternative, and as we do, we are steadfastly helping the supermarkets to achieve their goal: total control over their supplies – our products.

It’s a doomsday scenario if I ever saw one.

On the record

Strange things have been happening to me lately at the checkout. Songs have been popping into my head, forming a soundtrack that is in complete contrast to the mundanity and relative sedatedness of working. I’ve been recalling quotes from movies and obscure TV shows at appropriate moments.

It started this week, I think, or perhaps last Friday. One minute my brainwaves were running at alpha level and I was grabbing products off the conveyor belt, and the next Pete Doherty’s voice was blaring in my head and I was thinking, ‘You’ve got nothin’ on your mind/ you’re bleedin own you two bob cunt’.

The quotes that I thought of were a little more respectable.

On Tuesday there was some kid in the background screeching like a car doing high revs with the handbrake on, and the woman I was serving kept shaking her head but was smiling in that ‘Kids will be kids’ sort of way. I smiled back at her and said carefully, ‘That reminds me of a quote from a film. Have you seen Sleepless in Seattle?’

She said yes, so I continued on.

‘Well, Tom Hanks says to the woman he’s on a date with, “Do you have kids?”‘

(This remark resonated with the customer and she exclaimed, ‘Yeah, I remember that part!’)

‘Anyway, his date replies, “No” and he quipps, “Would you like mine?”‘

The customer laughed and said that she recalled that part of the film. She then joked about how she wouldn’t give her children away; rather, she’d sell them off at the right price.
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I had just finished my shift yesterday and was walking to the back of the store to clock off when I stopped by the open fridge to look at the desserts on display. I noticed a small pavlova that was marked down to $1.49 and I decided to buy it.

At the express checkout, when my pavlova was being processed by the checkout veteran who I mentioned in a previous post, two middle-aged women queued behind me and started talking amongst themselves. The one nearest to me placed a crusty cob (a bakery item) on the counter of the express checkout and laid down next to it a long breadstick. As she was doing this, she asked her companion, ‘You didn’t break the bread, did you?’

Her companion was making her reply when I turned around and said wryly, ‘Isn’t that a biblical reference?’

The two paused for a moment before laughing and saying, ‘Oh, it is too!’

And on that high note, I paid for my pavlova, took it and left.

A hairy conversation

‘Am I going bald right here?’

My co-worker looks at me, concern etched on her face. I peer closely at her head, at the spot she is referring to. As I reply, I try to remain expressionless.

‘Uh, no, I don’t think so. It looks pretty much the same as before.’

We are about fifteen minutes into our shift, working back to back. This is the first chance we have had to talk to each other since our initial meeting at the Christmas lunch in December. It is beginning to seem that our conversations will never be banal. Over roast chicken and cold chips, we had somehow progressed from introducing ourselves to each other to discussing sub-cultures. Apparently, she was in primary school when the gothic movement took root.

Right now she is speaking softly, her voice a little hoarse. She looks tired already.

‘You see, when I’ve been showering recently, clumps of hair seem to fall out for no reason.’

I nod.

‘When I was little I used to have very long, very thick hair, but by the time I was nineteen it started to fall out and become much thinner.’

‘Hmm,’ I muse.

‘And now my hair doesn’t seem to be able to grow past this length.’ She waves a hand at shoulder height.

I say carefully, ‘Well, I suppose it is a little thinner on top than before… but just a little.’

‘You know, once my hair grows longer than this, it just falls out,’ she says solemnly. ‘I haven’t cut my hair in four years.’

I’m taken back by her last remark. Looking at her hair, I answer, ‘Wow… uh, perhaps it’s hereditary?’ I’m referring to hair loss but I don’t want to say the words.

She responds calmly, ‘I’m not too sure what it is, what’s causing it.’

At this point a customer has walked up to her checkout and is eyeing her for assurance that she is ready to serve them. I smile, and gesture towards the person to signal that I’m alright with ending our conversation abruptly. She turns to serve the person and I soon find myself busy as well.

Sometime during my shift, she leaves her checkout to attend to other duties. We haven’t spoken about her thinning hair since.

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P.S. Haven’t seen Japanese guy for over a week. Am very relieved.

P.P.S. Was asked for my number by a man yesterday. Although indoors, his eyes were obscured by sunglasses.

P.P.P.S. Because I wasn’t there to advise my father of our current stock levels, we now have over 3kg of chicken wings in the freezer at home.

I’m with the band

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

A man wearing a Smiths t-shirt walks into a supermarket with his mother. He meets another man in the checkout queue in a Rammstein t-shirt. The checkout girl tells the Smiths man that she prefers just Morrissey and it sparks a conversation about Morrissey’s various albums and songs. He says that he likes The Smiths’ album Meat is Murder, referring to his shirt.

To the Rammstein man the girl asks whether he caught the band when they were in Perth two years ago. He muses over this then tells me that he missed them and can’t remember what he was doing at the time but that he saw Rammstein in Germany.

The two men and the mother leave. Checkout girl continues her duties.
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(Well, it kind of happened like that. The two actually came in on different days.)

A memo

One of the three major supermarket chains in Perth will be undergoing a massive uniform change from the end of January.

Paired with the current pants/skirts, the new shirts will be an olive green colour and 45% polyester. The company emblem will be sewn on the left-hand side of the shirt in the same olive green as the shirt and will be barely visible.

The shirts, popular opinion has it, are dead awful.

The eyes have it

It goes without saying that seeing is not a physical act. That doesn’t explain, however, why it is that we can feel someone’s eyes on us even when they’re beyond our field of vision.

At food courts in shopping centres I’ve done it and had it done before. You’re bored so you look at someone, take in their facial features, their actions. Then they realize they’re being watched and they glance at the person who they posit is doing the staring.

You quickly look away, but you know that you’ve been caught. The diverting of a gaze is somehow no match for the act of focusing on a new visual object.

Today’s four hour shift was a very dull one. One of the few moments of interest came when I caught a man queuing in the next checkout along staring at the buttocks of a woman waiting in line at my checkout.

I think I was waiting for a service assistant to return to the checkout and deliver the results of a price check for the customer I was then serving. For a good while, I watched the man in the other queue look firstly at the woman’s shoes, then at her behind, then again at her shoes.

I’m not sure what was so fascinating about her shoes.

Then he detected that he was being watched. He looked my way and I stared back. He offered a half-smile, seemingly unembarrassed that I had seen him eyeing extensively a woman’s body. I returned the half-smile, and tried to convey the message that I had caught him in the act.

We looked at each other for a second or two, and then his gaze dropped to my name badge. I looked away.

Come to think of it, he wasn’t close enough to read my name badge.