Here is the Fort Worth-Dallas area, discount grocer Aldi opened its first stores about two weeks ago. I like the concept, and the quality is good, too. I’m glad to see a simple alternative to the needlessly complicated grocery-buying process.
When I first stepped into the Aldi on Hwy 183 in Fort Worth, I was disappointed. The narrow aisle funneling all customers down the same path and the shelves filled with unfamiliar brands made the place feel like a dollar store or a salvage grocer. But a closer look reveals a good concept.
Unlike some discount stores, Aldi carries a consistent line of products, not closeouts and damaged items. Their Special Buys — things like flowers, table sets and seat cushions that are well outside their main product range — help cheapen the image, though.
The idea is great: lower prices and a simpler, quicker grocery shopping experience for you; less staffing, product loss and liability for them. It works in Germany, their home country, and around the world. Since 1976, they’ve opened more than 1,000 U.S. locations, but the chain is still expanding into many parts of the country.
Instead of the 60,000 items carried by some grocery chains, each store offers about 1,400 things. They’re house brands with funny names like Kirkwood and Clancy’s, and most things are offered in only one size or variety. And the stores are closer in size to a Walgreens than a Walmart. You must check out a shopping cart by inserting a quarter in a device that holds the carts to others (to encourage people to return carts rather than leaving them in the parking lot) and bags for your purchases will cost you.
Here’s the best part: Everything I’ve tried is good. Their items are often better than Walmart’s declining-quality store brand and sometimes identical to name brands. I could easily do most of my shopping at Aldi, but doing all of it there would require some serious changes in my shopping habits — something I am at least considering. You won’t find organic items (usually) and since there are no choices, if you don’t like their canned stewed tomatoes, you’ll have to get stewed tomatoes somewhere else. Their business model depends on most people liking their products, and it seems to be working for them.
Their quirky business practices cause some problems: Some customers visiting recently left without making their purchase when they found the chain only accepts cash and debit cards, not checks or credit cards. I saw a couple of customers questioning their bills, a problem caused by new clerks being forced to move too quickly. I am, however, glad to see cashiers sitting in comfortable swivel chairs. I’ve never understood why customer service workers must stand.
I also noticed a big flaw: A customer approaching the checkstands without a basket ruins their whole system. Cashiers are apparently forced to place purchases into a basket, even if only a few items are purchased. They aren’t allowed to do any bagging (you do that yourself at an adjacent counter), and they have trouble finding extra baskets for those of who didn’t take one at the beginning since they place the 25 cent reward on any returned basket, even if it isn’t yours. I’ll take a basket even if I don’t need one in the future to keep the whole store from grinding to a halt!
Since living a simpler life means reducing complicated tasks and eliminating clutter, a less cluttered grocery store with a simpler business model fits right in.
If you have an Aldi in your area, give it a try. And no, they didn’t pay me to say that — not even a quarter.
Gip Plaster is a web content writer. Previously a journalist, online bookseller and even a corporate advertising guy, Gip now specialize in writing high-quality content for websites — his and other people’s. Visit Gip’s Front Yard (www.gipsfrontyard.com) too.