Many people view American retail outlets as paragons of impersonal, efficient, gimmicky, cost cutting, customer-screwing capitalism. The Germans have 'em beat. At first I wondered if it was just Extra supermarket, land of Spee, Persil, and other cleaning products, but no.
First, commercial layout. They are good. The entry to the store has a slew of plants for sale, which not only gets sales but looks pretty. Home Depot, by contrast, always hides the pretties part of any megamart - the garden - behind a huge bamboo fence. Once you get past the plants and enter the store, Bam! are the stand-up displays with printed specials. Throughout the ride, the Extra speakers blare annoyingly catchy 'Extra radio' jingles at you with more price specials. The checkstands have the usual point-of-purchase junk: candy, gum, batteries, questionable and very cheap magazines on poor quality newsprint.
Second, gimmickry. The stand-up displays and checkouts include cute 'Discount Games' in which you must collect 20 stickers to get a super special deal. Ooh. I looked at the deals, and they were exactly the same as you would expect from American shlock-hockery. They had a picture of two forks, on a fancy tablecloth next to a fancy white napkin and fancy glass vase with a red rose, that said 'Normal Preis €33' but, with 20 Treuepunkte and only €7,99 Zuzahlung, they were yours. Wow! How do I get these stickers?? Ah, one for each €5 Euro purchase. But then the Discount Game had even more prizes. A butcher knife. Looked to me like a regular butcher knife. But, you see, I am just a myopic blowhard, because in this picture, it was held by a very serious looking chef, with a blinding white coat and very white chef's hat. So, of course it would have been a fantastic deal at 'Normal Preis €44.' Can I buy two? Please? Wait, I have a credit card, how many do you have in the back? Oh no. No. I can't take it. There's more? No. Perhaps I am mistranslating. Hmm. €44. €9,99. €9,99?! No, wait, the numbers are the same in German. (Makes it easy for Sudoku fans.) So it must be true. Can it be? I could get that butcher knife for only €9,99 Zuzahlung plus 20 Extra Treuepunkte? This is brilliant!! Why hasn't this sort of hype spread to America?
Third, you gotta pay a token for each shopping cart. The carts are all locked together, and this is the only way to get one. After people buy groceris and put them in the car, they do not leave them scattered about, or right in the middle of a parking space, or rolling downhill towards the hind end of an SUV enjoying its last few seconds of an unsmirched paint job. They take them back to the line of carts, relock them, and get the token back. Great idea! Now you don't have to employ some 16 year old to go collect the carts all day. Get that started in America. Put the work on the customer, not your employees.
Fourth, you weigh and label your own fruits and veggies. This explains why, the first few times I went to the checkstand and handed the clerk an unlabelled bag of tomatoes, she got pissed off. They have electronic scales in the produce section, where you weigh your green victim, push a button with its name, and get the label. Nice move. Yet the dairy and meat section is similar to America - they pay someone to stand behind a counter, you point to something or say its name, specify a quantity, they get within 10% or so and you say OK. They should work on this. Why not a weigh your own cheese section? Or meats? Save butcher salary and just have a little barn out back? Let customers borrow a shotgun if they buy a big butcher knife for €9,99. Wait, the former uses ammo, and costs money. Just the knife.
Fifth, checkout. No 'paper or plastic.' No, 'Can I help you with your groceries, Ma'am?' You bring your own bag, or buy one at the store. Zero personnel are assigned to bagging and walking out nice old ladies. That's your problem. The stores have self-service checkout, just like in America, but then you get no Treuepunkte coupons. At classic checkout counters, you still have to ask the cashier for the Extra Treuepunkte coupons. I am usually contemptuous when I see other people doing this, since it just makes them seem like pathetic, reflexive suckers. It's such a transparent gimmick. Geez. Oh, you don't want them? Can I have yours? Danke.
Sixth, recycling. No bring in a bag of bottles or cans, and get cash. They have a machine where you put the bottles or cans. It scans, gives a piece of paper redeemable at the checkstand, and then the surprise. I was waiting for the inevitable crush. That's really the only motivation to recycle for me. Fuck the fifteen cents, fuck the environment, I wanna see a moderately sturdy container get loudly demolished. It sets an example to his companions who might also be considering running out of beverage. Yeah, you better deliver next time I'm thirsty, or you're next!
But instead, a secret flap opened up in the back of the machine and the bottle was transported to a big room with more bottles. Now that's disappointing. Boo! What the hell am I doing this for then? And how do I know they really get recycled? What if you just take them in another room, and fill them with water or beer or soda, and sell 'em back the next day? Fucking Krauts.