new shopping adventures

September 8th, 2006

Yes, I know I've talked about shopping in Holland before, notably grocery shopping, but this keeps coming up. Aside from deciphering opening hours, figuring out what to buy (using algorithms to determine it), and paying for it, there are new aspects of this activity that come to fore ever so often.

See, in my area there is one Lidl, and a bunch of Albert Heijns. Not much of a choice at all. I'm sick of Lidl, because although they're cheaper, they have the most wacky set of items. All kinds of ultra cheap products that I'm not so confident about buying, but very lacking in the realm of common products. So I stopped going there, which means I'm left with Albert Heijn. Now this widespread Dutch chain is somewhat peculiar.

See, in Norway, if you go to Rema1000, you know that it's open 9-21 (9-18). Weekdays until 9pm, Saturdays until 6pm. And it doesn't matter which Rema1000 store you go to, every single one has the same opening hours. There may be some exceptions for stores that are dead in the center of a city, there may be longer opening hours in the summer, things like that. But for the most part, 99% of the time, you know that this store is open at certain hours everyday.

Albert Heijn, meanwhile, doesn't play like this. They categorize their stores by location and size. And then set opening hours individually for each store based on that. And based on the season. And based on the formation of ice glaciers in Antarctica, seemingly. What this means in practice, is that whenever I need to go shopping, and it isn't within the dead certain opening hours (10-18), I have to check when they're open. A few months ago when it was cold, I couldn't find a single open Albert Heijn in all of Utrecht on a Sunday. Last Sunday there were 5. Next week noone knows. Today (Thursday) they're open until 21, but in winter usually until 18. So while they enjoy rolling the dice in Albert Heijn head quarters, I'm left wondering.

Another thing that's causing me distress is being pulled over for speeding. As such, my location is sub-optimal, I live about 100m away from the main police station in Utrecht. And I don't care to bike any more in line with party policy around that building either, I still do what I've always done - bike with common sense. The other day I did something less than brilliant. I was crossing a street (with no traffic) on a red light and there was a car coming up on my left (I was on the bike sidewalk). It was turning right, while I was going straight. Turns out it was a cop car on a half-siren (lights flashing, no sound effects). I didn't see it until I was actually in the middle of crossing. It's a good thing they were busy.

Then I get to the store (did you think we were done with that topic?) and I'm parking my bike. It doesn't have a kick stand, so I have to lean it up against something. It's after 8pm, so the main shopping rush is long gone, there aren't that many bikes left in the little bike parking lot. As I'm locking my bike, through the rear wheel, the front leans over to the right a bit and falls on the bike that was standing next to it. So the bike is now in free fall, it falls onto the bike next to it and both of them go down. This wouldn't happen at rush hour, the parking lot is densely populated then. But at this time, the bikes are about 1m apart and this domino effect is made possible. I finish locking mine up, then I go over to the other two and put them up. As I'm doing this, a guy comes up to one of them, it's his bike. I say "sorry about this" and he gives me the most distant and careless "no problem" ever. I almost expected him to say "dude, that's exactly how I park my bike, I just throw it on the pavement". Well, most of the bikes in circulation are from World War 2, so it's not like I knocked over some delicate machinery, but you would still expect people to care at all. I bet I would get stick (or at least nasty stares) over this in Poland. :D

So I go into Albert Heijn and here's the thing. There's no bread after 11. They put out the bread in the morning, people buy it and if you come in at noon, it's all gone. All they have left for you is either some fancy, expensive bread, or alternative bread products, like bread with raisins dipped in sugar etc. This used to be a problem for me, my bread consumption is really high. But recently I stopped buying bread and I only get Wasa knekkebrød.

Then I go to the checkout and here's another Dutch quirk. In Norway, we have a conveyor belt leading up to where the cashier sits, then another belt right in front of her, finally a third conveyor belt beyond that. So all in all, the length of the whole thing is about 4m or so. This ensures that even when people do volume shopping (ie. a shopping cart and a half), there is enough space for them to unload their stuff, then load it into plastic bags. There's also a sliding divider at the end that separates your items from the next person's. Over here, (it does depend on the store a bit), the belt going to the cashier is shorter. So there's a lot less space on it. Then the belt from the cashier is shorter too, in some cases it's not even there, just a small counter where your items accumulate before you load them up. This makes it more awkward around checkout, there's less space, you try to stack your stuff in layers so that you can unload it all onto the belt and put the basket away. Then after you pay for it, sometimes your stuff gets mixed up with the person coming after you. If there's no belt going from the cashier, you make people wait for you to load up your stuff before the next person can go as there's simply no space. At Lidl, they actually have an extra long belt to the cashier (implying that people will be buying in high volumes) and then just a small counter afterwards (so after being scanned, their items will fall on the floor unless you bring trained packaging personnel).

Unfortunately, there is no Plus in my area. That seems to be the-supermarket-for-Norwegians, their stock is arranged logically, their checkout counter is normal size, they accept credit card on payment etc. It's also a little cheaper than fancy Albert Heijn. Sort of the Rema1000 equivalent.

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2 Responses to "new shopping adventures"

  1. erik says:

    I think what you call Rema1000, we call C1000. There was one close to my house in The Hague but they're not very common...

    AH needs to stop acting like it's the only supermarket in town :lazy: Even if it is :D

  2. Nawaf says:

    Monopolies are the devil, 'nuff said.. (I should know enough about it :D)