What I Learned at the Aldi store

In our community is a grocery store named Aldi. I had heard that customers had to pay for their shopping carts and the groceries weren’t even packed in bags by the clerks. This sounded unreasonable. I had so much to learn. My dear wife is the adventurous one and it was she who suggested we go see for ourselves. And so my lesson began.

What I first observed was neatness. No shopping carts scattered around the parking lot. No trash, either: no paper, no empty bottles, no discarded food containers. Something was different, but why? Over time, I would learn. I discovered the available carts were chained together and rented by inserting a quarter that would be returned when the cart was returned. Interesting, but what difference does a quarter make when compared to the cost of a week’s grocery purchase? Puzzled, I tarried on, following my dear wife into the store.

My next discovery: quietness. Quiet. No sound. Customers speaking in whispers to each other. No loudspeakers announcing the special of the moment. At first, disconcerting. No music, nothing. Quiet. Quiet like the snowfall on a winter morn. Silence. In our world we are so accustomed to being bombarded by unasked-for noise that quietness can be unsettling, but only initially. And I began to notice something important to me: people respond to quietness by being quiet themselves, and in doing so are polite to others. A quiet environment promotes quiet behavior and quiet behavior is one of patience and courtesy. That was a big lesson for me, that we are quickly affected by the environment in which we find ourselves and that a courteous environment is achievable.

The quietness and courtesies to others I discovered in spades in the checkout line. Typically, this is the painful part of shopping; standing in line for what seems forever to be greeted by a clerk who is already overwhelmed by the noise and the shoving customers. At the Audi store I regularly see customers letting those buying fewer items to go ahead of them. Honest! Allowing them to go ahead. To me, this is a by-product of the positive social environment.

My biggest learning achievement was the quarter paid to rent a cart while shopping. On many occasions, while returning the cart for my twenty-five cent return, I encountered people coming to check out a cart. Instead of cashing in my cart for the quarter, I offered the cart for free to the other shopper. Bottom line: it is just a simple matter of twenty-five cents, the equivalent of tossing them a quarter. But that is not what is experienced. In transferring my cart to another shopper, the reaction is as though I had bestowed a great gift upon them. People who shop at Audi frequently will smile, laugh, and offer profuse thanks. New shoppers will stare, refuse the cart, or ask why I’m giving it to them. To me, that is a further indication that people who participate in a positive social environment enjoy and appreciate positive social encounters; others need time to acclimate to the new experience.

I earlier mentioned the parking lot’s neatness. People who have spent sixty or a hundred dollars shopping aren’t returning a cart for a mere twenty-five cents; it is that by paying the quarter we become part of the enterprise and a sense of honor causes us to return the cart properly and to do our small share to keep the lot neat.

As our world becomes more crowded, having pleasant encounters in the routine activities of our lives will become more and more important. Shopping online is an avoidance technique; we are a social species and benefit from being among others. My hope is that other companies pursue ideas to make such public encounters more pleasant. This world is getting more and more crowded and any such move is a celebration.