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Aldi is a German supermarket chain that first entered the UK in the early 1990's. They pride themselves on being the "..fastest, friendliest people in the business" and their company slogan is "Spend a little, live a lot". Founded in Germany by two brothers, it opened in order to meet the needs of a very poor and economically-beaten Germany after World War 2. It has since grown and established itself across Europe as a decent, discount supermarket. Although when it first arrived in the UK it was only assosiated with very poor families, it has all but shaken off this image and appeals to a wider section of society now.
Aldi is an unusual shopping experience and an even more unusual place to work. First, I'll give you my perspective as an ex-employee and then as a customer.
I should have known as soon as the interview was over what I had let myself in for. It wasn't unpleasant, nor was it, well, pleasant. It was just strange...I was asked some puzzling questions by the over-exuberant area manager, such as the most challenging moments of my life and then comparing those to working at this discount supermarket! They ask an awful lot of you and if you value your time and home-life I would say go and work elsewhere. I didn't mind that it was a challenge and difficult (and believe me...although the stores now have scanners you are still required to memorise hundreds of PLU codes and prices) it just felt unnecessarily stressful. The management in the store where I worked were nice but placed immence pressure on the staff to always work faster (even when this was not humanly possible) and everyone there was absolutely terrified of making a mistake because you were led to believe that if you did you would recieve a disciplinary or worse.
Cashiers are timed and everything goes onto a sheet with your time on it. If you slipped below the required 1200+ items per hour you were hassled. It is difficult to give good customer service to a very slow customer when you know that you are being timed yet can't do anything about it. You can't tell the person to hurry, and neither should you, but because you know that your job is (potentially) at risk you can't help but omit a certain amount of tense frustration when an old woman decides to count out £35.89 in ten pence pieces! (It does happen). If a queue builds you have to ring for another member of staff to load another till which brings short-term relief but that repeats on you later; here's why: Aldi like to have very few staff working in their stores. Every day you have to work pallets into the shop from the warehouse, stock up freezers/shelves etc. and keep on top of the mountain of cardboard as well as cashier, but if you only have 3 or 4 (maximum) people in a store and you pull one off the floor onto a till that leaves 2 or three to tend to the rest of the duties (and everyone has to have a break). That means that 8pm when the store closes you have half an hour to do EVERYTHING because the company stop paying at 8.30pm. If there is still work to do you just have to finish it, but you were paid only until 8.30pm. Not good.
With the hourly pay, they advertise circa £8.40 per hour. However, you get a base rate of £6.60 and then the store productivity rate (about £1.00 per hour) is added to your base rate as a bonus if the store performs (and most do so it's okay) so for the first year you're on about £7.50 per hour. Kind of mis-leading I feel, and at times it was hinted that the store productivity figure would not be met which plunged you into a sense of fear as to what amount you would recieve on pay day (which was monthly, and they often got the wages incorrect!). This leaves employees in a difficult, awkward and frustrating position, and is completely unfair if you are a diligent worker but your colleague is lazy; you end up paying (literally) for his bad work attitude.
Aldi employess wear a smart uniform of black trousers, a blue and white pis-stripe shirt and a navy jumper with the Aldi name embroidered onto the lapel. Men are required to wear a tie, and every employee wears a name badge.
As a customer I find Aldi a frustrating place. I love some of their products (their specials are good and their flowers last and last) but the layout is hectic and dis-jointed. Each Aldi store has the same (or very similar) layout and after a while of shopping there you do get used to the system. The aisles do not flow but are set out in blocks, so you end up shopping each aisle in a square, weaving in and out, rather than browsing in the usual up and down manner.
Although the general feel and overall look of the store has improved over the years (it used to look like an open warehouse back in the early 1990's) it still feels a little empty, clinical yet primitive, and unwelcoming. The goods are either loaded onto metal crates or left on the warehouse wooden pallets, which doesn't make the shopping experience feel very comfortable. The crates/pallets are not packed with goods, adding to the empty feeling. Unlike a lot of British supermarkets Aldi doesn't really put a lot of effort into decorating the store with posters, plants and advertising, again, adding to the somewhat unwelcoming atmosphere. You walk in through the automatic doors to no welcome sign and out through the exit without a 'Thankyou for Shopping with Us' poster. I know those things don't really matter, but they do help to make you feel like your custom has counted.
Because Aldi doesn't have shelves with which to display product information and prices they are curiously hung from the ceilings on bright-yellow cardboard on a metal backing sign. It looks a little unorthodox but not unpleasant.
Due to the very low numbers of staff in the stores it is hard as a customer to get any sales assistance. You rarely find an Aldi employee on the shop floor and when you do they are almost always going back into the warehouse with a pump-truck to get another pallet. This makes me as a customer feel like their focus is mainly on productivity and their drive is getting as many people through the unfriendly doors as possible. Indeed, as an ex-employee I felt that is what I had to do.
Things don't improve as you approach the (rather long) check-out. This ends up being quite a fiasco if you have done a reasonably large shop as once you have loaded the shopping onto the belt it's a race against time to get it all back into the trolley again! As I mentined before the cashiers are timed so they rush items through and expect you to keep up. However, if you have just spent £80 on your shopping you do not want to throw it all back into the trolley and smash it all up, neither do you then want to go over to the shelf at the front of the shop and pack all of the bags there when you have just loaded (into the trolley), unload (onto the belt), load again (into the trolley) and load up (into the shopping bags). I used to feel so sorry for customers when I was a cashier because of this, and was often told by the store manager to speed up my times and to get even more customers through. Customers must pack their own bags; a 'help with your packing' service is not available at Aldi. You can also be waiting in a queue for a long time, so patience is required. They cashier will not call for another till to be opened unless absolutley necessary, even at a customers request. The checkout time is the area where the customer service aspect lapses.
Aldi don't sell an awful lot of brand name goods. Most of it comes from obscure brands that have no reputation. If Aldi feature a special then you will find a familiar brand, but when these are gone that's it. This means the variety is compromised as you only have one or two unknown brands to choose from, something I am not keen on.
Their packaging is relatively attractive, yet they blatently plagerise other brands, for instance; their own-brand chocolate looks incredibly similar to that of Cadbury's Dairy Milk in purple and silver; their own-brand cheese sauce looks almost identical to Morrissons cheese sauce...
I think some of the goods they sell are as really good, if not better in some cases, than other leading supermarkets but you can't do a full weeks shopping there as the variety is extremely limited. For example, they only stock one type of peas (tinned; processed) and you can't buy brown/caster sugar unless it is released as a special! These items are core supermarket stock yet they do not feature in this way at Aldi. This really lets the store down and I'm certain they lose customers because of this. I heard several complaints about this as a cashier and people would say it's easier just to go to Tesco or Morrissons where they stock everything. Also, some of their products are not as cheap as you would think; I tested this myself and did one weeks shopping at Morrissons (my supermarket of choice) and one weks shopping at Aldi. I bought the same things (as close as was possible) and Morrissons was cheaper by about £7.00.
Aldi re-stock the pallets on a regular basis and the fridge/freezer stock gets done once a day, but the fresh fruit and vegetables are only re-stocked once in the day, so you have to get there early to take advantage of that. The fresh produce is quite nice, but they don't have sell-by dates on them. This is because Aldi staff are given (yet more) codes to remember and these codes can be seen on the over-head price tage but mean nothing to the shopper. That means if you buy a bunch of bananas and are unfortunate to buy them a day before they come off the shelves as past their best, they will not be good for long.
One massive advantage (for me) is that they stock some lovely German sausages, such as kabbanos, garlic sausage, nurnumberg sausages, salami; meats, such as parma ham and maple bacon and continental cheeses which you can't get from other shops so readily. At Christmas time the lovely Lebkuchen (spicy German biscuits/cakes) come into the shop as does some tasty mulled wine. Aldi's beauty products are also fairly decent, well priced and are not tested on animals. They have started to stock basic medicines and even multivitamin supplements, though I wouldn't buy those unless they have the certification of quality on them or are graded.
Another advantage is that the alcohol is cheaper than almost anywhere else. This is because of a loophole in the EU law regarding trade (I can't remember what the story is now).
Aldi's fresh-cut flowers are also very good quality and last for at least two weeks. Each bunch comes with a little sachet of flower food, too. They are always displayed at the front of the shop and sometimes are discounted to 79 pence.
Aldi, like it's Lidl counterpart. have 'Special' days, which are every Sunday and Thursday. They produce a little brochure which is available in store, and this advertises what is due to come in one week ahead. The specials can range from laptop computers to Green Tea, and they are well worth a look. I recommend if you do buy a special, especially anything electrical or involves a gadget, that you keep the reciept. Aldi's return policy is okay, but you must have a reciept. If you do misplace it and the product turns out to be faulty, they will replace it, but if you simply change your mind they won't refund your money without one.
The ready/freezer meals are of poor quality in my opinion and are loaded with chemicals. The meat products are usually reformed and the salt content is worrying. They are a bit behind the rest of the world when it comes to food labelling, so you don't know if you are exceding you recommended daily amounts as nothing is labelled. They have introduced a Be-Light range, which is an attempt to offer the customer a healthier choice, though this is very restricted in its variety. I suppose it shows they are catching up with the rest.
A couple of the main complaints I heard as a cashier from customers were about the fact that Aldi don't supply hand baskets and the fact you have to pay for your carrier bags. The reason they don't supply hand baskets is because they have the checkout system designed for use with trollies. They encourage you to use the trollies by not supplying you with an alternative, which I think is incredibly arrogant. Sometimes you only need a few things, not enough for a trolly but too much to hold, yet you are expected to use a trolly or juggle. Not good customer service if you ask me. Bags cost 3 pence, 9 pence, 50 pence or £1 (though this gets you a re-usable bag), depending upon the size you require. This personally doesn't bother me as I just recycle my old ones, but some people find this outrageous.
I would recommend Aldi as a shop you pop into now and again to check on new specials of to buy some of the more unusual food and drink. The basic foods such as milk and bread cost a similar amount to regular supermarkets (£1.07 for milk, 89/£1.00 for bread) and so for a weekly shop I would personally recommend you go elsewhere as I'm certain you won't be able to buy everything at Aldi, even the larger stores. The customer service is second, in my opinion, to speed, deadlines and productivity. This is tangible as a customer.
It is worth a visit, but lets itself down in so many areas. As a place to work I would recommend it if you love having no quality time to yourself, uncertain hours, high levels of stress, an ear that loves complaints and wages that differ from time to time.
Opening hours are Monday to Saturday 8am - 8pm; Sundays 10am - 4pm.
Trollies are available for disabled people and are outside the store with the regular trollies. Trollies with baby seats are not available, neither are small trollies for a small amount of shopping. As I mentioned before, baskets are not available. Trollies need a £1 coin inserted into the mechanism on the handle inorder to be released and used. This is, of course, returnable.
Most Aldi stores have car parks, though none of them have extras like cafes, toilets, baby changing faciliies.