• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

The supermarket conundrum

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In the past there were no supermarkets. It did not matter what your social status was, we simply all went to the market. But today most medium-income people do the market and also the supermarket, especially when it was no longer daylight and you had a need at home that you could only get in the supermarkets. Rich people, however, do not go to the market at all; they only do supermarkets. For some of us who do both, we know that items like tomatoes and vegetables are cheaper in the markets. Going to the supermarket is also wearing a new toga these days. It has become a status symbol to be found in the supermarket aisles with expatriates who do not understand our markets. A lot of supermarket aficionados who are Nigerians seem to be saying, “No be only Oyinbo fit come here.” On top of everything else, they fill up their trolleys with all manners of goods and let their spoilt children fall down in anger and throw tantrums when they can’t get what they want. It’s a sorry sight.

But today I want to talk about supermarket staff behaviour which leaves much to be desired. Two days ago I went to my favourite supermarket in Abuja. A young lady had gone hoarse just trying to make her point. One of the girls at the check-in counter had been rude to her. The girl will not apologise and the management seemed helpless about what to do about the situation. The lower level managers were Nigerians but the top level ones were Indians and together they seemed like they had not received any training in customer service. While the aggrieved young lady carried on, all shoppers stood by the side and watched the drama. The rude girl pouted her lips and dared the customer to do her worst. Her colleagues egged her on. I was scandalised.

I am known for not brooking nonsense from service providers of any sort but I find the staff in most supermarkets the most unbelievable group. It goes from not giving you change because they do not have, or adding the little unnoticeable extra to your bill, or selling you expired products under the aegis of a suspicious sale. Any product whose expiry date is within a month or two should no longer be considered shelf-worthy and it’s already on its way to degenerating. It’s a matter both our health agencies and Consumer Protection Council should take up and deal with. The urge to make more money makes our supermarkets sell poison to unsuspecting citizens. Indeed, the Nigerian consumer must be at the bottom rung of all other consumers in the world.

Back to the supermarket. As I suspected, fellow Nigerians moved on and others grumbled about how the victim liked wahala, making such a din in a supermarket. I expected that we will all rally round her and rout the girl who by all accounts had been very rude to the complainant. Sad to report, Nigerians have no critical mass. Everyone soon went about their business; it was a side show and they had had enough. I watched as management of the supermarket tried to calm her nerves but showed no sign of cautioning the erring staff. I walked away from the items I was trying to purchase to the complaining customer. Then I spoke as loud as I could to the managers. Don’t you think this lady has a right to be angry and why are you people not apologising to her? It was the least they could do but no one on their side came to that realisation until I walked up to them. Then they offered a weak apology. The erring girl, on the other hand, continued to rant and rave and make a rude face. I had sufficiently addressed the victim urging her to calm. She told me the indignities she constantly suffers at the hands of the check-in cashiers and how she had borne it for a long time, only finally losing it on the day. Most of us have been there.

Ideally, the supermarket authorities will not only offer management’s unreserved apology but will cause the erring staff to apologise to the customer in the public domain. But as usual they dithered and gave us all the impression that the customer did not matter. I am waiting for the day when, as a force to be reckoned with, as a critical mass, the Nigerian people will stand up as one and boycott service providers who take us for a ride – be they telecommunication services, supermarkets, hospitals, leisure services or other such businesses. That would be the day because with that you go for the jugular of any business, the economy. This will ultimately make them sit up and provide better services. For now I still stand alone when I demand better services. That young girl in the supermarket was standing alone except for my intervention. The day we stand together will surely come, hopefully in my lifetime.