Have you heard of “skimpflation”? You may not be familiar with the term, but I can guarantee you’ve experienced the symptoms.
Skimpflation, a term coined by NPR’s Greg Rosalsky, describes the business practice of cutting back on quality or service in order to save costs. That leaves consumers paying as much or more than they did before, with a much smaller return on investment. Businesses skimp, we pay.
What does this look like? You don’t have to go far to witness skimpflation. At first, I thought it was my imagination that my local HEB no longer carried the same variety of products I was used to seeing. I’ve shopped there for years and noticed a gradual paring down of choices, with even common items suddenly unavailable. Only a couple types of lettuce? So much for my arugula. Practically no cheese to speak of? I guess I’ll buy some cheddar… again. And forget about the canned soup aisle. Blink and you miss it.
We’ve been hearing for months about supply chain issues, and they are most certainly compounding the problem. Unfortunately, the rules of supply and demand dictate that prices will continue to rise. Exacerbating the problem is employees trying to stock shelves smack dab in the middle of the day, when shopping is at its peak. In one recent case, employees were rearranging entire aisles, leaving bare shelves, while hundreds of shoppers were tripping over boxes and wandering aimlessly trying to find the olives. Why? Because stores either can’t find employees to work the night shift, or they’re not willing to pay them to work during off hours.
If it’s the latter, it’s highly short-sighted. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, we are seeing the lowest customer satisfaction in over 15 years. And when customers are unhappy, they go elsewhere. I’ve always loved the service at HEB, but if this is what I have to look forward to every week, Kroger will become my new best friend. And I won’t be alone.
Skimpflation is everywhere. Restaurants have raised prices on their menus, but the service is slower than ever, oftentimes providing a negative experience for diners. Even fast food restaurants are no longer fast. Those who have chosen to work there know that they are a commodity, so they are less inclined to hustle out of fear that their job is on the line. McDonalds needs them more than they need McDonalds, and they know it.
Houston is not alone in this phenomenon. As a travel writer, I spend a lot of time in airplanes, hotels, and restaurants, and I can attest to a marked decline in all things customer service. Nowhere is it more obvious than on airplanes.
On a recent Delta flight, we sat on the runway for over an hour before taking off because they couldn’t get the ground crew to check their numbers so we could take off. This caused most of the passengers to miss their connecting flight. No worries – the pilot didn’t bother to show up for that flight, so there sat our plane, un-boardable. Instead, we were put on a 5-hour delay. When passengers requested vouchers for a future flight – a standard practice just a couple of years ago – they were resoundingly denied. We were also denied meal vouchers, even though we were now forced to spend our day in the airport. Angry passengers yelled at tired airport employees and the whole experience was miserable, yet that flight was expensive, just the same.
Hotels, too, are taking this opportunity to cut back on standard service as well as amenities. The days of daily cleaning seem to be gone for good. First, this service termination was blamed on COVID and the need to stay out of people’s private spaces. But even after restrictions relaxed, hotels have made no sign of returning to their future service standards. Gone are the breakfast buffets and for that matter, the lobby coffee. If you order room service, there’s no telling how long you’ll wait. And on a recent early-morning checkout, I couldn’t find a single person to, well, check me out. No one at the front desk of a major hotel. Go figure.
Ask me if the hotel had lowered its rates to reflect its decreased services? That would be a hard No. In fact, in all my travels, I haven’t seen a single business acknowledge that it isn’t offering the same services or make any attempt to compensate with fewer charges.
Are businesses taking advantage of customers? Are they hoping that restaurant-goers and travelers will be so happy to be out that they won’t question the fact that their eggs are cold and delivered by a surly employee?
Are we not supposed to notice that we’re paying more and getting less?