We did most of our shopping at small town in Austria called Litschau. There was a grocery store there called Billa. When we first walked in we kind of said, “Wow, this is kind of a small store, bet they don’t have very much.” Boy were we wrong. What we came to appreciate is that they did not carry a large quantity of the same product but they had a large variety of products. I don’t think we ever went in there looking for something that they did not have. (Well, that’s not true. We were looking for clothes dryer towels, which they did not have. I guess dryer towels are not a thing in Austria. Actually dryers are not a thing there. But that’s another story).
Also what they did carry was all very high quality. Their bread and rolls are exceptional. We have never found any rolls in the USA that are the equal of the German “brotchen”, which is their hard rolls. The deli counter, did not just have one kind of ham, it had eight. Along with all kinds of other meats like mortadella, prosciutto, pastrami, salami, too many to name and remember all the names were in German. Same with the cheeses. Same with the sausages. Plus they had ready-made whole pig knuckles, whole beef roasts racks of ribs, ready made sandwiches, or if you wanted to wait a minute they would make a sandwich for you. I could go on and on. The best deli in Santa Barbara, would not hold a candle to this place. You get the idea.
Secondly, they are very efficient as you would expect. The checker always sits, never stands. So there is nobody to bag your groceries. You have to do it yourself. What we were to learn though is you are expected to bag them elsewhere, not at the end of the line where you can hold things up. You are supposed to put everything back in the cart, then you go to a separate bagging area, where you bag stuff. You do have your own reusable bags, don’t you? You better because they don’t have any bags for you otherwise.
In the produce area, you select your apples and there is a number associated with the type of apple it is along with the price per kilo. You walk over to a scale and enter the number on a screen. It prints out a barcode, which you stick to the bag with your apples in it. Now the checker only has to zap the barcode and presto. No time-consuming waiting while the checker weighs the produce then enters the code. Very efficient. Very fast. Never seen anything like it in the USA.
Let me go a bit off subject for a minute to talk about credit cards. Most of you know that Europe has had chip cards for years. We in the USA, have just recently implemented chip cards. The problem is we did it wrong. Yes we have the chip, but it does nothing except prevent the physical card from being counterfeited. In Europe the chip card is coupled with a PIN. So if someone steals your card they can’t use it without the PIN. Because our US chip cards don’t have a PIN, we had to sign the receipt, everytime! Soliciting dirty looks from the customers behind us for holding up the otherwise very efficient process of checking out.
There’s more I could say but this is getting long. A final word though. We found their employees to be super helpful even though not all could speak English, through gestures and our limited German, no one ever failed to assist us when it was needed. Turns out Billa is quite a large chain of over 3000 stores throughout Austria and Germany. It seems like they have the formula for success and they know what their customers want. We wish they would come over here and show us how it should be done.