Reducing Waste for Shoppers


    Big Boxes Aim to Speed Up Shopping (WSJ)

    No, this isn't about waste in packaging (I saw how the UK is pushing milk in plastic bags that you put into a reusable plastic jug at home, 75% less landfill space). Nor is it about wasteful stuff that we buy. Let's put that all aside.

    According to stats cited in the WSJ article, stores, such as Wal-Mart and Target, have found that customers want to spend 21 minutes in the store. If they have a list of 10 items and can't find 7, they'll quit and leave. It's not that the items are out of stock – they can't be found because the store is so large and hard to navigate!

    So the stores are actually looking at things from a customer standpoint. The traditional grocery store is to spread out common items (milk and vegetables) to force you to walk the whole store – that's waste for the customer, potentially. Target is trying a new approach:

    Target Corp. and Wal-Mart have attempted to make shopping easier for new moms by clustering baby clothes, baby food, strollers, diapers and even maternity clothes in the same department. Target customers “have responded favorably and it has translated into positive financial results for Target,” says spokeswoman Lena Michaud, who declined to cite specific sales figures.

    This approach (better organization) can be win/win: the customers get what they came for, walk less, and the store gets increased revenue. Wal-Mart is also driving changes that you might call “cycle time reduction”:

    Among the changes: better signs to help shoppers find merchandise, more convenient placement of hot-selling items and staffing changes to speed up checkout times.

    How did the stores get here?

    Focusing on convenience represents a turning point for discount retailers. For years, they kept building bigger and bigger boxes, figuring the combination of low prices and huge assortment trumped other considerations.

    Sounds like classic “mass production” thinking – bigger must be better! But customers are strapped for time, it's the only resource that's in limited supply for everybody (as Womack and Jones wrote about in Lean Solutions).

    Maybe the Tesco Lean story and some of the ‘Lean Solutions' concepts are taking hold? Tesco is coming from the UK to the US soon, so it's time to take notice!! Target and Wal-Mart beware!! Time to look at removing waste from the retail supply chain, as well.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. I’ll must say one thing that bugs me is all the supermarkets that now place all sorts of displays in the aisles so people can’t actually get by each other. I don’t imagine they create traffic jams in the store because the store management see traffic jams on the streets and figure given how many people participate in them it must be how people like to go through the world.

      Somehow instead I think it is because they don’t care about making life difficult for all customers if they think some customers might actually buy something extra. It is a shame, that even in such simple ways, stores consistently take customer hostile approaches to management.


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