The Queue for Shoprite Bread

by Uche Nworah

The title of this piece which has nothing to do with the global food crises may as well have been Begging for Bread at Shoprite. Yes, that’s what they make us do at Shoprite; the sales boys and girls and their South African employers make us stand in lines and beg for their hot oven-fresh bread.

Not that there is anything wrong in begging for bread, particularly here in Nigeria where it appears that hunger and poverty have found a permanent resting place but at least you wouldn’t expect to be begging a retail shop assistant to have mercy on you and extend a generous dose of kindness by handing out just a hot loaf of bread or two to you. At least not with your money in hand and the exhaustion of having waited, or rather queued for almost an hour.

If you know Shoprite or ever visited it, the upmarket supermarket located inside The Palms, Nigeria’s first and only shopping mall, you may agree that the sell-all supermarket which occupies a large expanse of space inside The Palms is probably one place where customer service does not count for much. But should this be so?

I love this country, not just because of the fact that Nigerians love life or show, but because of the spirit of the Nigerian. This never stops to amaze me since I relocated from the United Kingdom. I’m bowled over by the hope and joy that still fill people’s hearts despite the everyday challenges they face and the sometimes hostile and hopeless social and economic environment they live in.

It is not therefore surprising the way Nigerians, particularly Lagosians have embraced the various shopping plazas springing up in Lagos with strong patronage. Some who have lived in the western countries are surely re-living their shopping experiences with the introduction of Mega Plaza, Park ‘N’ Shop, and lately Shoprite. On any given day, you will find Nigerians of all ages and walks of life trawling the shelves of these retail shops in search of wares for personal and home use.

The introduction of convenient shopping has helped somewhat to improve the living standards of some Nigerians. Because they now have a choice, they no longer have to endure being trodden on, punched and spat at, abused, kicked and robbed anytime they went out to do some family shopping in the open markets such as Balogun, Tejuosho or Oshodi markets where inching from one shop to another could be equated to the proverbial camel passing through the eye of a needle as a result of the sea of human traffic.

While acknowledging the operators of these shopping plazas and malls, for at least making it possible for these generation of Nigerians to enjoy what their counterparts enjoy in the western countries, and their parents did in Nigeria in the seventies and eighties when Leventis Stores and UTC Stores provided similar services on a national scale, it is also important that the operators be reminded of the golden rule in retail business – The customer is king; never take him or her for granted.

It is the observation of this golden rule that has made big retail brands such as

Wal-Mart/ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the rest of them to continue to return billions of pounds and dollars in profits annually to their shareholders.

Though competition in the retail sector in the developed countries is more intense, thus making customer service a key competitive strategy unlike in Nigeria where retail outlets like Mega Plaza and Shoprite could be regarded as lone players or monopolists. However, there is no justification to the shortchanging of the Nigerian customer who bothers to visit the shops to spend their hard earned money.

One of my problems with Shoprite is with the attitude of their sales assistants and check-out personnel. I have since come to interpret their standard of service which I consider to be very poor to be as a result of lack of, or poor training in customer services. Tracing this further, one may discover a weak supervisory chain, this links further up to middle management that may be overwhelmed by the amount of workload, and further higher up to a Board of Directors who may have in so short a time recouped their original investments that they care less what happens from now on.

Everybody by now knows that Nigeria is a cash cow country. Any business idea that fulfills a need sells in Nigeria like the Shoprite hot bread. Ask the South African owners of MTN and they will tell you what a difference 7 years makes. Although Nigeria has remained a major contributor to their Group profits, the Nigerian customer however has remained the most poorly treated in terms of customer service amongst other customers on the MTN network in other countries.

It is difficult to say why this is so. Could it be that Nigerians don’t complain enough? Is it that the regulatory framework is weak and competition almost non-existent? are their no vibrant consumer associations to champion the various consumer causes? Or should we just wonder what the owners of these businesses are thinking?

Back to Shoprite and their bread. I have at various times fallen victim to what I chose to describe as the Shoprite bread madness. Each time that happens, I swear to myself that I will never come back but I end up breaking my vow. I end up coming back. It is not that I’m so much a fan of bread, okay, I own up, I enjoy eating their hot bread with a bottle of chilled coca-cola, but I also have some colleagues at work (Mathew, Chika, Bethel, Okey, Toni-Anne and co) who are also under the spell of Shoprite bread. Because I drive past Shoprite everyday on my way home from work, and most of them go the other way after work, I have unwillingly accepted to provide their daily doses, or should I call it fixes of Shoprite bread when I can.

Resolving to get the bread is one thing, and getting the bread is actually another. At Shoprite, there is bread and there is bread. If you are after those other types of bread, then you don’t have a problem, you have lots of those idling away in the shelves. The one that you may probably have to cross the proverbial 7 deserts and 7 seas to get is the oven fresh one that gets sold out while still being baked. Believe me, queuing for a piece of this bread is not for the faint hearted, you must be prepared to spend an average of 1 hour of your 24-hour day. This is an aside though, why do I think that it is only at Shoprite that Nigerians seem united in the age-long war against indiscipline? Everybody queues up here in patient way for bread; father, mother, brother, sister, young and old. You therefore wonder why we can not extend this queue orderliness to other places in our national life. One could therefore say that the next generation of disciplined Nigerians are being bred (I almost wrote bread) at Shoprite.

Now, don’t think that luck has smiled on you by the time it gets to your turn because the confused sales attendants who hand out the bread as if they are standing in the throne of Heaven handing out life may just announce in their usual unfriendly tone that ‘bread don finish’. It will then be up to you to decide to wait and waste another 1 hour or worse still to inch further to the chicken and rice section to queue again for a dose of fried rice or jollof rice and chicken.

I have on few occasions requested to speak with the supervisors at the bread section who seem to enjoy seeing their fellow countrymen queuing up. Maybe it is their own little domain and an opportunity for them to feel important and play god like the politicians in Abuja. Don’t think that my main worry is with their 2 –loaves- of- bread- per- customer policy. No, though I would have wished to be able to buy more to meet up with my colleagues’ request at work, but rather it is the fact that they almost always neglect those who have queued up for hours and sell instead to their associates through the ‘back door’.

Also, rather than help decongest the queue by handing out the Shoprite manna as they come off the oven, they rather chose to wait until they have stacked them all up in a big metal shelf before distributing.

Will I still go back tomorrow to queue? Yes, I will but I am hoping that the operators will read this and ensure that they recruit adequate numbers to attend to the queuing bread hunters. Those recruited should also be trained in the very basics in customer services; ability to offer customers information and serve them with a smile, something I have never received at Shoprite.

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TJ Evans June 2, 2009 - 8:09 pm

LOL!!! @pohposh..Your last sentence is so funny!!

pohposh June 15, 2008 - 3:14 pm

I agree with you, but have you seen the way our brothers and sisters toss back cans of beer/soft drinks down their throats and leave the empties on the shelves ,without paying?. The worst is having the entire clan come and buy a pack of indomie and toothpaste making movement a night mare in there!


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