Sunday, April 24, 2016

Don’t bring your bottles here

New York has had a bottle return law for at least 30 years.  I know this due to working part time at Stewart's after being discharged from the army in 1985.  It was a pretty unsophisticated system back then; the customer brought their empties and they were often counted on the counter and then placed in the back.  Stewart's was never equipped to handle big bottle returns and we (myself and fellow employees from back in 1985) were never too happy to see a customer arrive with a massive collection of returnable bottles.

Fast forward 30 years to today and we are blessed with automated machines for bottle returns (although as far as I know, Stewart's and other smaller convenience stores typically do not have these machines).  These machines are a great improvement… when they work.  Even with automated machines there is much opportunity for improvement and this posting reflects my quick and dirty experiences returning bottles in my local stores.
(In an effort to provide better clarity, I have now arranged these from best to worst).

Price Chopper (Albany Shaker Road) gets my highest score of a B+.  Their machines (at more than one location) recognize the 12 ounce plastic Dr. Pepper.  The bottle room at the Albany Shaker location is usually in decent order with working machines and is in reasonable proximity to the store.

Shop Rite (Colonie) – I love your croissants, but your bottle return is only so-so and I give it a C.  As with Hannaford and Target, these machines do not recognize the Dr. Pepper 12 ounce plastic but as noted above, this beverage is usually purchased at Hannaford and Target so I cannot say with 100% certainty that the item is sold at this location.  The bottle return at this location is at a reasonable proximity to the store and was found to be working properly but it is outdoors and in the great state of New York during winter it can be a bit chilly (invigorating for us locals).

Target (Northway Mall) – Let me state upfront, I really like Target…but their bottle room is a D+.  I understand that stores may not want the ugliness of a bottle return in their entryway; however, Target places their bottle room at an excessive distance from the entrance.

Bottle room door; entrance to store is beyond the carts in the far distance.
This excessive distance seems to be planned in their store design as other Target locations have the same issue.  This might not be an issue if everything goes without a hitch, but more often than not there’s a hitch.  On one very cold occasion, the bottle room wasn’t unlocked (thankfully Target’s customer service is very good and they assisted me); on another occasion the machine was jammed which required another trip to customer service.  As with Hannaford, Target’s machines do not recognize the 12 ounce plastic Dr. Pepper (and the irony is that my wife usually buys these 8 packs at Target or Hannaford).  Due to my consistent bad experiences, I try to avoid returning bottles to Target.

Walmart (Washington Avenue Extension) – I try to avoid returning bottles to Walmart and give this location a D- on their bottle return.  On a recent occasion I happened to have a “Great Value” (Walmart brand) bottle so I took the occasion to give it a go (and was quickly reminded why I try to avoid returning bottles to this store).  There were 2 plastic bottle machines at this location.  The first had a message indicating that it was in need of service (not working) the second looked promising, but on my second bottle jammed up requiring me to trek to Custom (dis)Service.  After waiting in the line, the customer service representative attempted to shuttle me back to the bottle room to wait for assistance (although she was not able to get them to pick up the phone).  There was clearly no telling how long I would be waiting in the bottle room so instead of falling for that trick, I insisted on speaking to a manager.  Thankfully, a manager arrived and offered the 10 cents which I was happy to accept to be done with the experience.

Hannaford (Wolfe Road) – DOWNGRADED 5/4/2016 - Hannaford was one of my highest scored nearby stores, but this has changed.  The "bottle" room at this Hannaford has recently been renovated and there is now one (1) bottle machine.  (Yes one and only one, this is not a typo).  This is grossly inadequate for a full sized grocery store in one of the busiest areas in Albany.  In this current state, this bottle return is a F (fail).  I hope this is addressed quickly.  On a positive note, I will give this store an A for customer service.  The manager has reached out to me and with an assistant walked me through their drop off service, "Clink".  While this service sounds promising, I don't think it will be for everyone and I continue to believe that having one and only one machine at this busy location for those who choose to return their bottles for immediate refund is grossly inadequate.

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