Russia Simplified
Russia Simplified
Notes on living and working in Russia

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Specifics of grocery shopping in Moscow: case study

Moscow grocery shopping

I wanted to buy a bottle of wine and went to a nearby grocery store. This was one of those big chain stores you find everywhere. In the store, I went straight to the alcohol section and stared at shelves for good fifteen minutes in hope to spot something decent, but not overpriced. Choice of wine in Russia typically is very little especially if you care what you drink.

While I was standing there, some store employee, (judging by her uniform) was browsing wine section, checking price tags, adding missing ones and removing those not in use. I could see a couple of places where she missed a tag, but before I turned to show her, she disappeared.  I found a bottle of Rjoha Gran Reserva, Spanish wine, 2010 for 479 Rubles, how the price tag said. Nice deal, I told myself. I took the bottle and went to the cashier to pay for it.

The cashier scanned the bar code and the amount of 759 Rubles popped up on the cash register screen. By the law, they are required to say purchase amount out loud. They rarely do. “What’s the price on this wine?”, I asked. “759”, she replied. I pointed out that price tag had mich smaller price. She rolled up her eyeballs and asked lady at the nearby cash register for the keys to cancel transaction. I do know what they think about in such situations, that I will just leave with nothing. To make things clear I reassured her: “I still want that bottle and I am paying what the price tag says”. Not many people know it, but this is the law. No matter what cash register bills, a customer pays what the price tag says.

We went to the wine section together and I pointed at that price tag that said 459. “Do you still want to buy this bottle?”, she asked on the way back, hoping to avoid upcoming hassles. “I do”. She grabs the phone and does not know what number to call. She asks security guy about phone number and he does not have a clue. She tries a couple of numbers but reaches no one. Security guy, says: “It’s lunchtime” and asks what is the matter. He is an older guy, speaking with accent that people from Gruziya or Azarbaidzhan very often have. The cashier explains the whole deal with the price discrepancy and he starts to defend her.

He has nothing to do with this, it’s just subconcious. In his mind I am the one bringing trouble for someone from his “circle”. Maybe he likes her, I don’t  know. He begins to mumble things like: “It was a promotion that ended today”. “It was a promotion and all prices changed today in the morning”, he says again. I feel a strong urge to tell him to shut up and do his job, but I don’t wanna raise tensions. 

In this particular store I witnessed quite a few scandals over price discrepancies . I remember one customer complaining about higher price on a box of a chocolate. I saw store employee pointing at the exit by that box of chocolate saying aggressively in a loud voice: “If you don’t want to buy it, the exit is there!”. Another scandal, over a kitchen knife that was supposed to be on sale by the price tag. Customer yelling at a store employee, and employee yelling back at her. They looked like two dogs barking at each other over the counter. And that was the end of a beautiful day, and the customer was grocery shopping for her family, I guess.

So, I am ready! I only regret not having my mobile phone with me to photograph that price tag to make official complain to the store headquarters. I have a couple of strong phrases in mind and I am ready to raise my voice if they give me even a little reason to. This is what you absolutely have to do in this country or they – store workers, managers, security people will just walk over you every time they screw up.

Finally they call the store manager thru the loudspeaker and she comes accompanied by the cashier manager. They ask what is the problem. The cashier says: “The cash register bills 700”. “759”, I correct her. Not paying attention to what I say, she goes on with: “And the tag is 409”. “459”, I correct her again. You see, for her these numbers, prices are unimportant details.

The cashier manager does not bother going to check the price tag. She checks the price on the spare cash register. “Do you still want this wine?”, she asks. “I do”. They have a short and very quiet discussion and store manager makes me a proposal. “What if you pay 759 and I will give you 280 difference in cash?” I agree, knowing this is not a right thing to do, but I just can not, absolutely can not make a scandal over a bottle of wine.

She leaves and comes back shortly with 280 rubles, gives it to me with some apologies. How she manages to write off or reimburse those 280? I just do not know. “Replace that price tag”, I say. “Oh sure, I will”, she replies, turns and goes back to her office. 

Couple of days later I stopped by that wine section to check that price tag. The tag was not replaced it was just gone. Bottles of the same wine were still there, waiting to surprise another customer.

Practical lessons 

In Russia nothing happens as (we believe) it should. Things can go wrong any time and any place. Dealing with mistakes of others is a normal part of everyday Russian life and Russians are good at this. If you see something that’s different from your culture - RELAX.

Accuracy is not a big deal in business in Russia.

Always check price tags and look what they are actually billing at the checkout. Price discrepancies always happen, especially with items on sale, so be extra cautious with those.

Use barcode scanners found on the store floor to check prices before checkout, especially on expensive items.

The law is this - you pay what the price tag says. But you might need to defend this right. Scandals and fights are almost normal part of everyday business. 

There are no solid business processes for placing store items on sale. Or if they are, they are not followed. There is no business process for handling mistakes.

”Black cash” can be everywhere and in stores they use it to cover up own mistakes.

Useful vocabulary

Сколько это стоит? (Skolko eto stoit?) - How much is it?
Ценник (Tzennik) - Price tag
Цена на ценнике [Tzena na tcennike] - Price on a price tag

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