I would like to offer a public apology to Aldi, the cut-price supermarket chain that is becoming very popular amongst British shoppers.
Last week I visited one of their branches in my home city of Leeds, and I did something a bit naughty. I left a full basket of shopping next to the door and walked out of the store, leaving some poor shop assistant to have to stack away all of the items that I had left, and also (assuming that Aldi follow food safety laws) to throw away all the chilled items that I left festering in the shopping basket.
So this is my sincere public apology for any inconvenience I caused their staff, and the loss of any food they had to throw away, such as the pack of mature cheddar, the stilton wedge, fresh cream, etc.
BUT here is the reason I did it.
The Aldi store I visited today was a complete disaster area. In fact it was a customer service disgrace!
When I arrived, the shop had about 40 people inside. A reasonable number for a Sunday afternoon. But within 15 minutes of my arrival, the number of shoppers must have doubled. In fact, the shop was so full of people that it was probably in breach of health and safety regulations!
There were 6 tills in the store, but guess how many of them were open? TWO!!
That's right. Only two tills were open to cope with at least 80 people in the store. Needless to say, when I was ready to pay for my basket of goods, the queues were about 20 deep, and I estimated the waiting time to be at least half an hour.
So I was standing miserably in the queue with a basket of a dozen items, with a mass of people in front of me clutching shopping trolleys crammed full of Aldi's lovely cheap items.
But there is a clue in my previous sentence.
Aldi are known for being cheap, and most of their advertising campaigns focus on this. That's fine. It's great to offer good value for money, and there is no wonder that Aldi has become Britain's fastest growing chain of supermarkets. Because let's face it: everyone likes a bargain.
But if you make low prices your only selling point, then it will eventually come back to bite you. Because in order to be cheap, you have to skimp on customer service.
So I was stood waiting in an horrendous queue, safe in the knowledge that I was just about to waste half an hour of my life. But then I started adding up the value of the items in my basket. I was saving about ten pence on the cheese. About three pence on the tomato puree. About fifteen pence on the onions. About four pence on the cream.
I calculated that my shopping basket was about £1.50 cheaper than if I had gone to Asda, just up the road from where I live.
If I had gone to Asda, I would have paid £1.50 more on the items BUT I would have driven a shorter distance (saving on the cost of petrol) and I would have saved a lot of time as well.
Sooner or later, people are going to work out that it is just not worth the hassles of long queues, small choice of products, few staff, poor product information, and generally terrible customer service.
People like to get a bargain. But the novelty of low prices soon wears off when you realise that it comes at the price of bad customer service.
Aldi can only be so cheap because they don't employ enough staff, and they don't give a damn that their customers have to wait in long queues to be served by badly trained, moody, under-paid, over-worked cashiers.
And sooner or later Aldi will realise that customers would rather pay a little bit more in order to receive good customer service.