/ 19 October 2012

Supermarkets or super manipulators?

'Savings to the customer is Pick n Pay's one and only selling point.'
'Savings to the customer is Pick n Pay's one and only selling point.'

The "big interview" with Richard Brasher, the new chief executive of Pick n Pay (Business, October 12), should have been a big interrogation – or at least a serious quizzing. Yet, when I finished reading the last paragraph of the piece, I looked to the top of the page to check if it wasn't an advertorial.

Like many others, I have shopped at Pick n Pay for years. Savings to the customer is their one and only selling point. But why should we trust them when they tell us they are "<a href="http://mg.co.za/article/2012-10-12-00-how-ill-make-pick-n-pay-tops" target="_blank">keeping prices down</a>"?

The public quite rightly insists on government transparency, but trustingly accepts retailers' accounts of their profit margins and reasons for huge price hikes. What evidence have we consumers ever seen of how savings from bulk buying are passed on?

The values of supermarkets and their managements are exemplified in the case of Shoprite boss Christo Wiese, who was caught creeping around Europe with suitcases containing R7million in cash. (He also owes about R2billion in taxes.) Another example is the involvement in a Ponzi scheme of retired Pick n Pay chief executive Sean Summers, who was not satisfied with years of earning millions.

We should not trust the Mr Bigs of this world any longer. We should not meekly assume that they are doing their best for us.

Pick n Pay helped to kill all the small grocers. To convince us to buy at its shops instead, it has harassed consumers with full-page newspaper ads and incessant advertising on television. The idea of savings at the supermarket has attained the status of a religious belief.

As the company flags, it intensifies its efforts, but all in a misguided fashion. Increasingly desperate and facing stiff competition from Checkers, Pick n Pay is among the top 10 advertisers in South Africa, spending R551.45million last year. It has also retrenched 3 000 staff and is cutting the cost of labour to a lower percentage of its turnover.

Poor labour relations reflect in the cashiers' attitudes to customers: they avoid eye contact, talk to the baggers and look sullen. We should not have to suffer this insulting behaviour because of management's acts.



Introducing the "smart shopper card" apparently hasn't worked for Pick n Pay – and it hasn't worked for customers, who find the benefits meagre. It's a tiresome business and shopping has become more than a bore, more than a chore – it's a disheartening experience in which it is clear one is being ruthlessly manipulated. – Joyce Ozynski, Johannesburg



I always find the statements made by people who have been appointed to high-powered positions interesting, so I was slightly amused by Brasher's upbeat view on his appointment. My amusement was caused by the fact that Pick n Pay is a family business that flourished because of the apartheid system and was always going to struggle once that situation changed.

Furthermore, I have had the misfortune of being both a Pick n Pay customer and a potential service provider to the chain. I was left with a very bitter taste in my mouth after interacting with its management.

The quest to provide a service on my part was informed by problems I encountered every time I shopped at any of their outlets in Durban. In a process that took me the best part of two years, I found myself exposed to a high level of arrogance and racism from the management.

I have since watched from the sidelines as Pick n Pay became the "wallowing mess" that it is. I am of the opinion that the company's problems can only resolved when its management sheds its arrogant and racist stance, however much this may have contributed to its success in the past. I therefore wish Brasher luck in his new position and assure him that he will need every bit of it. – Ntsikana Tuntulwana