Failing to serve the Publix

  One of the larger supermarket chains in the Southeast is Publix.  For me, they have the favorable distinction of being one of the few chains that never wasted time on a "loyalty card" program, instead simply bringing lower prices to any and all without forcing customers to jump through extra invasive hoops to receive some token discount.  That signals some sensible thinking at the administrative level.  The company website also presents the usual marketing pablum about diversity, sustainability, healthy living, community involvement, yadda like most of the chains do.  And over time they have walked quite a bit of the talk.

Then why the heck would they still want to succumb to that prejudicial nonsense about bare feet?  Mr. George would be spinning in his grave if he knew that rather than royalty or family, customers were being treated like "undesireables".  "A culture that cares", or "respecting the dignity of the individual", my ass.  George was still alive and active during the sixties/seventies -- what was *his* take on discrimination?  I decided to take this up with them at the corporate level, and since I'm in their territory for some part of each year, push it fairly hard.

Having learned that the most frequent anti-feet excuse from grocery chains is illusory liability concerns, I went after the legal department in a similar approach to Ahold.  People who sit at a desk in front of a computer all day certainly have time to do the necessary research, from my fledgling guidance and beyond, and perhaps eventually understand that removing this one remaining but painful wart of discrimination from their entire infrastructure really would make good long-term business sense.  It would cost them almost nothing, with a potentially rich reward in terms of community relations and positive PR.

So I called the customer-service number and escalated and presented the case in the usual way, asking them to involve appropriate counsel.  A return call a few days later was from the customer-care area and delivered the usual party line, which made it clear that they hadn't even talked to Legal and were just jerking me around.  I clarified that I wanted someone *from* Legal to call me to discuss, and basically threw it right back at them.  It is well worth expressing intolerance of faceless corporate arrogance, especially when a *human* issue is on the table.

A couple of days later someone finally did call from the legal department, and we actually had a very nice conversation.  Jessica, I think.  She was unaware of a lot of the recently emergent knowledge about barefooting, and sounded personally intrigued.  This gave me some good hope.  I also got an actual ticket number for my query, so I could continue referencing it directly whenever I talked to other people.  To help move her department in the right direction, I offered to send along some links and other guidelines via email if that would make it easier and they had a usable address to give me.  Turned out it was fairly obvious, although buried inside an obfuscated and mostly nonfunctional "feedback" form on the website and not easy to find otherwise.  It actually took a couple of tries to reach them, because their inbound mailsystem assumes that everything for customer-care is generated by the web-form and ticket system and needs to have a magically formatted "case number" in the subject string.  It's unclear if straight non-web-form email actually could ever open a *new* case and not just bounce.  Anyway, they eventually received my thoughts.

To: customer.care@publix.com
Subject: Case Ref # 9876543 : shoe-policy case
Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:10:08 -0500

Please associate this message with customer-care case # 9876543,
currently being handled by your Legal department.  Here is some
supporting information for the request.  This case likely needs to
travel to the CEO or similar level to be resolved.

Please read and understand the following material from the web:
    http://www.ahcuah.com/bf/history/myths_oh.pdf
    http://www.barefooters.org/faq-q20/

In addition, simple online searches for word combinations such as
    barefoot health
    barefoot liability
    barefoot safety
    barefoot fitness
and any other words expressing commonly stated "concerns", will turn
up countless references illustrating the increasing popularity of the
barefoot lifestyle as a healthy choice.  It would clearly be in the best
business interests of Publix to accomodate that, collectively shed any
remaining vestiges of misplaced prejudice from the sixties, and welcome
barefoot patrons on an equal basis with any other paying customers.
Again, there is no risk presented to Publix in terms of duty of care,
since someone walking in across the parking lot has already clearly
assumed their own risk profile.  Experienced barefooters are both well
aware of and *resistant to* potential hazards.  I personally go out
in the woods and hike mountains without shoes, and am perfectly fine.

Mr. George would have probably agreed with me, in that unfounded
discrimination is always at odds with community goodwill.
Policy sign at Publix door

 

I then took a bit of a diversion, upon observing that the tangible mechanics of becoming outwardly foot-friendly might be a little more problematic for them.  The highlighted statement here, typically conflating footwear and shirts which really have nothing to do with each other, is part of a large adhesive sign behind the glass of every location's entrance.  So changing one small part of it might seem infeasible to apply in a widely uniform way without replacing the entire thing.  <snark> [Well, they got themselves into that pickle due to lack of discerning forethought, didn't they.] </snark>  However, I also noticed that they already had a way to do local modifications, as shown in the upper highlighted part here [click the pic for a better view].  Stick-on overlays on the *outside* are used to customize store hours, and could clearly also be used to modify any other part of an existing sign.  In that same email I tossed out a couple of suggestions.

I realize that the policy statements at store entrance doorways are
in the form of large stickers applied to the inside of the glass, and
thus somewhat problematic to have location managers simply change out.
It seems that re-statements of the relevant sections could be applied
in a similar fashion to the external overlays for store hours, e.g.
adhered to the exterior of the glass to supersede selected text.
Suggested replacement verbiage could be
     BARE FEET AT OWN RISK
or some equivalent sentiment if there's any remaining worry.

 ...
The important thing is to get all of the stores' *staff* on the
same page and eliminate any further possibility of disagreement or
confrontation.  As I mentioned on the phone call, marketing or public
relations departments could spin this into a nice community-relations
press release or the like to help the public's awareness of the
company's ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.

Thanks for your serious consideration and action,
 ...

So, how about saying "please" on such signs regarding shoes?  What's special about pets that brings out a little more courtesy?  My *feet* don't bark or pee on the floor.  Framing a statement about footwear as a suggestion rather than a mandate would not only carry a more welcoming message, it would also help to realign the thinking of location staff.  That way, any customer with a strong conviction that they do indeed know what's right can politely decline, and continue unmolested with their business.  That's really what anything said about shoes should ever be, at a minimum -- a suggestion that sensible footwear MAY help many people shop more comfortably, but will not be imposed as a "requirement" on those who are confidently fine without it.

Imagine what might happen if the sign said "no tattoos".  This very entrance would have probably been smashed into rubble by an angry mob long since.  Pick your battles carefully, Publix -- barefooting isn't just a hippie-flower-child thing to make a statement anymore, it's become an integral part of many healthy and productive lives and you'd best get on board with that.

Despite all this effort, they fell silent for several weeks with no kind of response forthcoming.  Another call to customer-care revealed that they had basically dropped the whole matter on the floor unanswered, which is pretty unprofessional on their part.  This is why we ask for case numbers -- it stays in their ticketing system, and they could look up the entire exchange to date and get familiar with it quickly without me having to start over.  The basic party line was still the same but accompanied by no solid business-needs reasoning, which I am still unwilling to accept.  As of the reference date here I consider the matter still in flux, whether or not they consider it closed with no beneficial changes.  Publix *is* going to keep hearing about this, and not just from me.  Do your part!  Call 800-242-1227 and ask them poignant questions like what they think "American freedom" or respecting the individual really means in a context like this.


_H*   170402

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