Service Failure at a Supermarket

October 31, 2010 Blog 2 comments

Supermarket shelves should always be full stocked (source)

While grocery shopping recently, my wife Tina experienced an inexplicable service failures at one of the largest supermarket chains in Singapore.

The story went like this.
My wife was looking for ingredients to prepare a clam-based pasta with white-wine sauce. To give it a nice finishing touch, it was recommended that fresh parsley should be added to enhance the taste.

Off she went to this major supermarket, looking for the particular item. Unfortunately, when she arrived there in the afternoon, she saw that the herb was missing from the fresh produce section.

Apparently, this wasn’t the first time that this popular cooking ingredient went out of stock, as astutely observed by my wife. On several occasions, the same vacant space greeted her from the vegetable shelves.

Being the never-say-die person that she is, my wife went on to ask a retail assistant why that particular produce was (and still is) always one of the first to go. Shouldn’t the supermarket replenish it quickly to cater to popular consumer demand?

To her bewilderment, the staff agreed that parsley has always been a popular item and was always ‘sold out’ by a certain time of the day. This wasn’t surprising as it occurred fairly frequently. The other culinary culprit was lemongrass. The response was given in quite a nonchalant, matter-of-fact manner.

When my wife next enquired how she can be assured of getting it the next time she visits, the retail staff shrugged her shoulders. Another customer told her that she should visit a different supermarket (a more upmarket ‘rival’ chain) as they’re bound to have the item in stock.

My wife was so flabbergasted by her experience that she went on to fill up a feedback form to be directed to the management of the branch. Apparently, this was the only action that the staff can take.

It is surprising in this day and age of pinpoint accurate Point-Of-Sale (POS) systems, Supply Chain Management strategies, and wholly integrated ERP systems that such omissions still occur at sprawling supermarkets. What’s especially ironical is when the service award winning staff informs you about this fact in a smiling and friendly manner!

Hmmm…. I wonder if this is a case of system failure, human failure, or process failure?

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. You are talking about fresh produce so there are scheduled time for the delivery to appear.

    Fresh produces are usually delivered in a group and batches.

    Unless your POS is linked to a teleportation device, it would be quite difficult for the lemongrass to appear once stock has run out.

    If you have worked in a supermarket environment, you would understand the constraints.

  2. Aaron,

    I think Walter’s point is that if you’re the supermarket and you know that you’re always out of stock in on a certain item at a particular time of the day, it’s not difficult to place a larger order to ensure you’re always in stock.

    Because of the razor thin margins for produce, assuring timely deliveries of sufficient quantities mean profits. Retailer wins, customer wins.

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