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Milleneum marketing

So our beloved Hughes is now Ralphs, at least on the inside. But since we shop on the inside, the condition outside is little consolation.

I feel the pain. I know the complaints. Reduced stock, new and surly staff, difficult aisles and complex pricing schemes incomprehensible to all but cryptographers and world class chess players. But wake up Malibu and grasp the big picture. This is the evolution of modern marketing and we must understand it if we are to survive!

No one believes the explanation given by Ralphs. No competitive corporation willingly destroys its customer base and alienates the community merely to maintain uniform store policies. The real objective is to acclimate shoppers to the coming revolution in retail sales. This is behavior modification on a large scale. Look beneath the surface and the truth is revealed.

Why are the shopping carts outside the store? It is inconvenient, particularly in the rain. Collection points around the parking lot are being removed. More and more, shoppers are obliged to return their carts to the store front. Sometimes, shoppers who have loaded their vehicles wait to find arriving shoppers who will take their cart back to the store.

This is the beginning of a fundamental shift in the distribution of labor. For now, we are asked only to handle the shopping carts. Soon, items will be stocked on palates instead of the shelves. If we want an item, we will have to unpack it. As the trend continues we will be required to handle more stock. Eventually, the stock will be left on the trucks and shoppers will have to bring their items into the store to buy them.

Why are so many items discontinued? It is a frustrating practice that continues at a furious pace. Removed items are replaced by store brand items. Of course, you can request something else. If you ask often and loudly you just might get it. But don’t count on it.

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This is attitude adjustment. It seems innocent now. But, when the process is complete, we will only desire the store brand. We will be required to complete a questionnaire and perhaps spend a few minutes with the in-store counselor to justify the purchase of any brand other than the store brand. We will be made to feel uncaring, unsupportive and perhaps even foolish for wanting any brand other than the brand chosen for us by Ralphs.

Why has pricing become so complex? We must join the club. We need a card with our code number. If we forget it, the checkers will use theirs — for a while. Our old friendly checkers gladly used their cards for us. Suddenly, new checkers who do not know us and don’t much care tell us that they cannot use their cards any more. No card, no discount. Follow the rules or suffer the punishment. Learn the program and conform or perish in the aisles.

Promotional specials are even worse. Want the discount price? No problem. Just be certain that you announce this fact loudly to the checker before the checker touches the register, be certain to have the discount items first in line and above all you must beat the checker to the bar code reader with your membership card. Quite simple when thoroughly learned and practiced.

These tactics will quickly separate the sheep from the rebels. Sure, many shoppers will leave in disgust. But those who remain will be proven conformists. Little-by-little, Ralphs is winnowing the unruly mob of individuals who used to shop at Hughes into disciplined members of an elite shopping cult.

This is the end game. No individual demands. No inefficient effort to serve the selfish desires of the individual shopper. Just one large harmonious group gladly accepting the goods they are directed to purchase on any given day. This is shopping in the new millennium and Ralphs is way ahead of the others.

But visualize the big picture. There are hidden benefits. There will be new job opportunities and a new social class. Those of us unable to conform to the new requirements at Ralphs will be forced to hire shopping agents who have mastered the system. Those with the intelligence and stamina to survive the shopping wars will be rewarded with a prestigious new social position. T-shirts and bumper stickers will proclaim “I Survived Shopping At Ralphs.” We will bond as do all groups who weather a disaster together.

So we must each make a decision. Do we accept this radical conversion or fight for our future? Will we become wimps or guerrilla shoppers? For myself, I have chosen to take the challenge. I will be strong. I will persist. I will study and train. I will exercise daily. I will have my club code number tattooed on my forearm so that I can thrust it into the beam of the bar code reader.

I will not shop at places like Pacific Coast Greens, Vicente Foods or Gelsons. These old-fashioned establishments coddle the shopper with convenience and service keeping shoppers weak and dependent. Because I can see the big picture, I will gladly suffer to improve my skills and become a 21st century shopper. I have my own agenda. I have my own plan. When I am strong, when I am able to face crowded aisles and long, long checkout lines with confidence, I will finally be able to shop at Trader Joe’s.

Name withheld upon request (while the writer seeks entry into the witness protection program).

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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