Why most American Grocery Stores are Supermarkets
Before I proceed any further, it should be mentioned that the American conceptual understanding of “Supermarkets” is different from it is defined elsewhere. The vast majority of American-style grocery stores are in actuality Supermarkets in both form and practice. An average American grocery store can be expected to sell far more than the usual array of food items. Notable examples may include, but not limited to, a pharmacy that can filling prescriptions and over the counter medication, an aisle containing some cleaning supplies, another aisle for books and magazines, a small restaurant kiosk like a Starbucks, a counter selling tobacco and lottery tickets, and a section for domestic and imported alcoholic beverages. There may be other things that could be sold, but these are usually the ones that tend to stand out the most.
In America, the distinction between grocery store and Supermarket does not exist. This deters the prevalence of any local independent grocers who cater to the surrounding residential area. By contrast, most grocery stores outside the US are only expected to sell foodstuffs. People visit the grocery store for that specific Intent, searching for everything else in another store. Larger cities can be expected to have a multitude of independent local grocers, although it is possible for there to be Supermarket chains capable of displacing them.
What has caused the concept of the Supermarket to displace the independent grocery store as a Small Business in itself? The history of the Supermarket contains a few hints, not to mention why Supermarkets in America have become synonymous with grocery stores.
The first Supermarket in the world opened its doors in Memphis, Tennessee exactly one-hundred six years ago on September 11, 1916. The “Piggly Wiggly” was founded by Clarence Saunders as a thought experiment derived from his experiences with handling livestock. The thought experiment itself revolved around introducing a “Self-Service” conception of the grocery store, which in his day was predominantly “Full-Service.” The Self-Service was a revolutionary concept, its significance made apparent when one realizes how it is so different from the Full-Service model.
A traditional Full-Service grocery store will have all of its products behind the counter. The customer would have a grocery list of items to a standing clerk, who would then read the list and grab the items from the shelves. Once the items were in a shopping bag, the customer pays the clerk and leaves the store. The Self-Service model involves having everything on aisles of shelves for the customers. Customers visit the store, take what they need from the shelves, and buy them at a self-service checkout lane. The clerk will instead be standing behind a cash register, who will bag the items and tell the customer the Price.
What made the Full-Service model distinct from the Self-Service one is that the former turned the grocer into a professional salesman, who needed to be able to know what the customer was looking for as soon as they arrived. Since the transactional sale was slow and time consuming, it provided opportunities for some social interactions between the grocer and the customer. Self-Service made the idea of grocer as professional salesman redundant, allowing customers to make their own decisions. Due to this, advertisers have had to find ways to make different products stand out on the shelves and inviting the customer to buy them. When the Piggly Wiggly, a lot of the trends associated with American Supermarkets were introduced by Saunders, such as putting candies at the checkout, having items on the shelves with labeled Prices, and providing customers with shopping baskets. All of these practices have become commonplace in Supermarkets, and it is likely that certain aspects were copied in other countries vis-à-vis their own domestic chains.
Full-Service or Self-Service?
One has to wonder whether if there is any chance for a partial revival of the Full-Service model, especially in the context of Supermarkets. When Clarence Saunders came up with the Self-Service concept and later founded Piggly Wiggly, he developed his thought experiment from when he observed pigs racing to a trough while looking outside the window of a train. He committed that specific image to heart when he devised the Self-Service model. In fact, this image in the name of the Piggly Wiggly itself. This would not have been a terrible thought, if it were not for the fact that the Self-Service model is particularly vulnerable to shoplifting. All kinds of security measures will need to be installed in order to deter shoplifters.
But that is not to suggest that a Full-Service model is superior to the Self-Service one here. While it is true that shoplifting will be deterred, the same cannot be said for armed robbery, however. Of course, just how often does armed robbery occur at a “Full-Service Supermarket,” especially in a world where most Supermarkets rely on the Self-Service model?
There is another disadvantage with the Full-Service model. Since it relies more on the grocer acting as both register clerk and professional salesman, the Quality of Arbeit will expected to be higher than that of the Self-Service model. The possibility is there for lower Work-Productivity (WP) due to grocers having to spend more Zeit (Time) on a single customer, which might prevent them from contributing too much Arbeit (by serving an individual customer) or generating too little Geld (by completing the transactional sale).
As for the Self-Service model, it too has its own disadvantage. Given that there are fewer constraints on the Zeit of the customers, once could expect a lot of customers visiting the Supermarket at once. That might sound great until the Work-Intensity (WI) starts rising faster than usual, causing the Quality of Arbeit to deteriorate. The Quality of Arbeit may be low, but the Quality of Geld could become higher due to a larger Frequency of customers.
The problems of both models are made obvious by the Work Theory of Money (WTM). In the Full-Service model, the Quality of Arbeit is too high and the Quality of Geld is too low. Meanwhile, in the Self-Service model, the Quality of Arbeit is too low and the Quality of Geld is too high. Neither are Sustainable insofar as the Full-Service mode is at greater risk of raising the Inaction Rate, whereas the Self-Service model will raise the Attrition Rate.
Remember this following chart from early on in The Third Place (1st Ed.)?
Overall, the Full-Service model increases the Inaction Rate vis-à-vis a lower WP, while the Self-Service model raises the Attrition Rate through a higher WI. Rather than allow the SSE to rely on either model, it would be far better in the interests of the Student Body and their Student Government to implement models more appropriate for the Work-Standard and MTEP (Mission-Type Economic Planning) in particular.
Partial-Service or Auto-Service?
There are two other models which the SSE might try to implement for the Supermarkets that the Student Government will be overseeing alongside the Department Stores. One proposal is a “Partial-Service” model, the other an “Auto-Service” model.
In Auto-Service, a Supermarket will employ aspects of Full-Service where the personnel will employ “Miniature Automated Tractor Vehicles (MATVs)” to provide a much needed boost to their WP. There will be entire areas of the Supermarket manned by professional clerks and salesmen. To compensate for the lack of Self-Service, Auto-Service will allow any Supermarket using this model to offer lower Prices and newfound Intents for customers to have their items delivered to them at the parking lot or sent to their Household. Personnel inside the Supermarket will retrieve the items requested by the customer, place them in a storage unit of a pre-programed MATV, and have the MATV roll out of the Supermarket for the customer to pick up the items and put them into the trunk of their car. Alternatively, the MATV could be sent outside to travel to the address of the customer, where it will be delivering the items to their front door.
In Partial-Service, a Supermarket has aspects of Self-Service where the personnel will find ways to lower their WI. Accompanying the checkout lanes are a number of self-service checkout devices which will allow the customer to bag the items themselves. Someone will oversee the self-service checkout lanes while other will continue to man the rest of the lanes. Other personnel will be present at the aisles to keep them stocked, in addition to manning the rest of the Supermarket.
The difference between Auto-Service and Partial-Service boils down to how the customer conducts themselves and the size and composition of the Supermarket itself. The customer, if they have the Zeit, could visit a Partial-Service Supermarket and get whatever they need without ever having to interact with the personnel before reaching the checkout lanes. However, if they are pressed for Zeit or would prefer to have their shopping done ahead of Zeit, they could have their orders transferred across the National Intranet to the Supermarket through an eCommerce service.
Furthermore, the Arbeit and Geld created by a Supermarket in Production for Dasein depends on whether it operates as a Partial-Service or an Auto-Service. Partial-Service will only create Actual Arbeit and Actual Geld and may be relying on the Central Bank’s Mechanization Rate to mitigate the effects of its WI on the Attrition Rate. Auto-Service, given the role of MATVs and the National Intranet, will be able to create Digital Arbeit and Digital Geld on top of their Actual Arbeit and Actual Geld to supplement the effects of WP on the Inaction Rate. And unlike the Partial-Service model, the Auto-Service model does not add toward the Central Bank’s Mechanization Rate.
Together with Department Stores, Supermarkets will provide the Student Government with opportunities for those training to become Economic Planners and Inspectors to apply what they had learned from classroom instruction. If the Department Stores represent the equivalents of most NSEs, then Supermarkets will function as equivalents to the largest economic organizations, the SOE and the SAEs. And going back to the diagram from the beginning of the Entry, there are two more Enterprises that the SSE might be interested in adding to its sources of Arbeit and Geld. Those two are the “Second-Hand Store” and the “Antique Store,” which will be discussed over the course of the next Entry.
Categories: Third Place