Doing battle with the discount supermarkets

March 7, 2012

Approaching the checkout I can almost feel my heart rate begin to increase. I take off my coat and drape it over the end of the trolley. Overheating would only add to the stress. I unfold my shopping bags and brace myself.

Yes it’s time for the Great Aldi/Lidl High Speed Trolley Filling Face-Off. A weekly event. It’s me against the German Discounters and their relentless drive to reduce queuing times while keeping staff levels just one notch above skeleton.


I don't buy this much wine or cake, honest

For the uninitiated, those who remain touchingly fond of branded groceries and have yet to embrace the unattractively packaged but keenly priced bargains on offer, the checkout set-up at Aldi/Lidl looks a little unusual. It’s Not Like Other Supermarkets.

For a start, the checkout conveyor belt is about three times longer than normal. This means you can, indeed must, deposit an entire trolley load of shopping on the belt before any of it is scanned through. Conversely, the trolley reloading end of the checkout is approximately the size of an A4 page. Before they’ll start scanning, the checkout staff politely but firmly insist that you adopt ‘the position’; narrow end of trolley flush with the end of the checkout, ready to receive.

At this point, the dream scenario for the Aldi/Lidl Project Team With Special Responsibility For Maximising Checkout Throughput Rates would be to dispense with the customer altogether. Ideally, remove him or her to a special holding pen while trolley loading takes place with maximum efficiency. This would leave the task-driven and scarily focused checkout staff free to concentrate on scanning through the maximum number of items per minute. Once scanned, items could be shoved willy nilly along the checkout, allowing them to simply slide off the end and tumble into the waiting trolley.

Instead, annoying customers get in the way, fussing pettily about not wanting their eggs smashed. Feverishly trying to prevent their pillow packed rocket salad from turning into rocket pesto under the crushing weight of the juice cartons. And, worst crime of all, PACKING BAGS AT THE CHECKOUT.

This practice is frowned upon by the German Discounters. Instead, we are invited to ‘take it to the shelf’. Behind the checkouts, a wide shelf has been installed where we are encouraged to park our trollies and bagpack at our leisure once the latest scan-and-load landspeed record breaking attempt has been completed.

Well they can think again, because my time is valuable too. I have stubbornly refused to take it to the shelf. I’m never taking it to the shelf. But I appreciate that speed helps Aldi/Lidl maintain their rock-bottom prices. So I find myself approaching the checkout as if it’s a competitive event. I’m pumped. Psyched. In the zone. Those bags are getting packed without recourse to the shelf.

I’m primed for the first bleep of the scanner. And we’re off. I focus on keeping pace with the furiously scanning checkout person while simultaneously:

  • keeping fragile items intact
  • bagging frozen items together
  • placing heaviest items in my sturdiest bags for life
  • maintaining stress levels at no higher than mild panic
  • resisting the urge to bellow “SLOW DOWN WILL YOU” at the hapless checkout person.

I emerge from this process wild eyed, red faced, yet triumphant. I didn’t take it to the shelf. A tiny victory.


Photo by Ruben Swieringa, Flickr Creative Commons


14 Responses to “Doing battle with the discount supermarkets”

  1. caitrionaw said

    One or two items, with *damaged* barcodes, strategically placed on the belt would give a person time to breathe…

  2. That is HILARIOUS! Thanks so much for writing this, I’m so glad I’m not the only Lidl rebel 🙂

  3. Cathriona said

    I thought it was just me! Thanks for normalising my mentalness 😀

  4. Carole Long said

    Never retreat to the shelf !!!

  5. Sheilas_perfume said

    I totally agree with you. No way am going to unload the trolley to load it again then then take the trolley over to “the shelf” and repack it all again. But at the same time I get so flustered at the checkout – like you trying to pack the shopping into some sort of orderly fashion – I am always totally knackered when I come out from either of these shops. And was does not help is the size of the trolley – they are soooo deep with my short arms and short legs I am almost falling into the trolley to get things out.
    But I will do it all again next week!

  6. MarketaDee said

    Haha, spot on! Never retreat to the shelf!
    In our local Aldi the staff no longer say ‘please pack your bags at the shelf’. That drove me mad, my weekly response was ‘Please don’t hassle me, I’m doing my best here’.

  7. susankilkenny said

    Ha ha! There is a scarily efficient, almost robotic, cashier in one of my local Aldi’s. She always, always says “you must pack at ze shelf” I always, always say “I’m fine thanks”. It’s like a little dance. I have super sized bags (courtesy of holliers in France) which I place at the narrow end of the trolley and then lob everything in. Sometimes I’m happy to pack at the “ze shelf” others days, less so. I can understand why they ask you to pack at “ze shelf” but when I can just as quickly put my shopping into big bags in the trolley then I’m going to do just that, haven’t delayed anyone yet. So sue me!

  8. Katherine said

    Oh it’s not just me then? I’ve developed a winning strategy for this battle, though it still requires concentration. I unload to the conveyor in bag-sized sorted piles – a pile of veg, a pile for the freezer, a pile of cleaning stuff etc. Delicate stuff at the back of each pile (so top of bag) and each pile interspersed with something big and awkward – say loo roll, or a sack of spuds – which will slow the scanning at least a little while I switch bag

    Ok, call me obsessive……but I feel a tiny surge of pride when everything is packed and I’ve kept pace.

  9. Mary Kelly said

    Love that you put my feelings into words!! No shelf packing EVER!!

  10. toady said

    I’ve just survived an Aldi checkout attack. 3 hours later my heart rate is still at the high end of extreme. I too avoided the drudgery of the shelf. But it was the sullen, blank stare of the checkout zombie that has really stayed with me this time. I don’t think I’ll be going back. It’s just too damn weird.

  11. Art said

    Dear ‘whoever wrote this piece’,
    I agree with you in some points, but not a lot.
    While you stubbornly refuse use packing shelf (if you are that slow as you paint it) to save yourself time, you are wasting time for everyone waiting behind your back in a queue. Is their time is worth your 30 seconds repacking?
    Think about it, please.
    Nobody wants spend half their life in queue.
    Kind regards,

    • Dear Art
      If you read the piece again, you will see that I do in fact keep pace with the frenetic checkout staff. I just find it stressful to do so, and I wrote this lighthearted and tongue in cheek piece to reflect that. It would take WAY longer than 30 seconds to pack the trolley a second time. If there are people behind me with just a few items I always let them go ahead as it gives me more time to unload my stuff. Finally, lighten up for fuck’s sake. Think about it, please.
      Kind regards

      ‘Whoever wrote this piece’
      (My name is easily found in the ‘About’ section if you could be bothered to look).

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