Grocery Store Organization

Published: 11/23/03

I did a lot of thinking about how grocery stores are organized this weekend. Maybe it’s because I spent a long time looking for a product that I used to know its exact location before my grocery store remodeled and reorganized. Maybe it’s because I was in a different grocery store for perhaps the first time and noticed rice in three separate locations. Then I began wondering about who organizes grocery stores and how they do it.

Do I have a harder time finding things because I rely on my abilities as an information professional to try to locate things based on priniciples I studied in library school, like grouping similar items, searching for things that go together, organizing items by container, or putting frequently sought items in easy-to-find locations? Do the people who decide what goes where have any background in how people look for items? Or do they primarily do their arranging based on what sells where, like items go together, packaging (canned goods on the same aisle; etc.), and shelf space?

The location of rice struck me as completely odd. Some rice was on the aisle with pasta and other rice-like foods. Some rice was further down that aisle on the opposite shelves near the ingredients for some Asian dishes. More rice was located near the Mexican food items, either at the bottom of that aisle or on the next aisle (I can’t remember now.). At first, I thought it might be organized by type or brand of rice, but arborio, jasmine, brown, and plain white rice were mixed in at least two of the locations. Container size could have been a factor as most of the large sacks (10 or more pounds) were located near the Mexican specialties. Being unfamiliar with the store’s layout, how was I supposed to know where to go to buy rice? The signs in the aisles don’t have the item labeled and there’s no “See Also” sign near the rice. I just happened to walk further down the rice aisle and past the Mexican food as mere coincidence. It’s quite possible that some shoppers leave the store without finding what they need because they don’t know that rice is kept in three locations.

I couldn’t help wondering what other unusual organization schemes the store uses and whether other stores in the chain may appear as unorganized to me. I also wondered if the grocery store I frequent also has similar organizational schemes that I don’t notice because I’m so familiar with the store–at least I was until they reorganized certain aisles a few months ago. I think rice is only in two locations and it’s based on container size.

(What store is it that has an index on the grocery cart? Is it Publix? Super Stop and Shop?)

I’ve often wondered why grocery and other stores don’t have a catalog of what they have and its location, like an online public access catalog many libraries have. Many bookstores have these systems and I don’t really understand why the technology isn’t utilized elsewhere. (Whether customers can use them directly is another issue.)

Boy do I miss where I shopped for groceries a few years ago in the Mad City …

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