Sunday, May 06, 2007

Grocery Store Artifact: We hate you more

There is a fauxism* in retail that "The customer is always right." Let me tell you a little secret...We all hate you customers for it. The reason being is that most customers act like privileged a-holeoids eternally offended that they have to dirty their gloves by shopping and actually having to meet the people who really support their lifestyle.

Listen up, Sport. The cashiers are there to help you get what you want and they want as much as you do to get the business finished as quickly as possible. It is in the script to welcome you, ask if you need any carry out service and wish you a fond farewell so don't give us any crap about it.

Here's some guidelines for when you when buy your sugar-frosted and grease-packed groceries.

1) Hang Up The Phone. There are other customers behind you and it is irritating that you can't stop yammering for 4 minutes to pay attention to what you are doing. Funny that someone who seems to take such pride in communicating your opinion to you friend who is going through her 5th meltdown over the cute guy who won't call back can't clearly communicate to the cashier what they want. Yes, yes, we are so very impressed by your need to do business in line at the grocery store. You are so fast-paced and important at what you do! Guess what? Unless you are Donald Trump negotiating a billion dollar deal for prime New York real estate I think that the half-senile old woman you are pressuring into buying a Sleep Number Bed can wait a few minutes. Her social security check will still be there when you call back. Also, don't be insulting by signing off your cell phone call by sneering "I'll call you back. I have to deal with the cashier now." I don't see you out on the veldt hunting down your own food, so show a little courtesy to the people on this end of the supply chain.
2) Don't Wait To Tell Us What You Want. See item #1. I can't stress enough that you need to pay attention. It annoys us that after we spend time ringing up and bagging the order you realize you were too busy or inattentive to ask for "double paper bags in plastic bags". While we are slightly annoyed (only because it isn't fair to the people waiting in line behind you) we don't really care. Because if we wait on only one customer all day we still get paid for it and we will gladly unpack and then repack everything to your satisfaction. Except maybe a few eggs get broken by "accident" during the process.

3) We Are Not Trying To Rip You Off. Honest. Don't shriek in a venomous rant that you are being misled by advertising or the fine print. Yes, when a brand has 15 styles of a product and the 5 you want is not on sale it is not usually an error. The reason those 10 items are reduced is because we have too many of them and just the right amount of the others. The sale is structured to move the over-stocked stuff. Read the darn tag, please. Also, if you find a non-sale item on a shelf with sale items and the product is wildly different don't insist that it was on purpose to fool you into buying it. Customers often put items where they don't belong. Finding a box of Dixie Cups six aisles down from where it is supposed to be stocked crammed among the potato chips that are on sale may be a clue that the cups are not discounted and have been misplaced by someone. But guess what? We want your business so badly we'll probably discount them for you anyway. Your ranting just makes you look crazy, so calm down.
4) Stop Trying To Rip Us Off. We mean it. Don't tear open two bags of dough balls at the back seam and shove one inside the other. When bagging your purchase we will probably notice. We are diplomatic enough to ask if you want a replacement for the "damaged" product and not accuse you of shoplifting but it is stupid to risk embarrassment and jail for 89 cents worth of dough balls. Stop using the Self Scan Register to put one over on us by scanning a coupon and then shoving a piece of blank paper in the slot so you can repeatedly use the same coupon. Quit printing out your own bar codes and sticking them on the expensive items. We will notice that the bottle of $90 wine is ringing up for $3.99. Trust me. That is why when you come up to the register with 40 bottles of alcohol and tell us "they are all the same" we still insist on scanning them individually. Hey, and sales have a definite expiration date, by the way. We are embarrassed for you when you come in seeking to get the pork chops at last week's price.

5) Take Your Meds Before Shopping. Please. None of us are paid to deal with the craziness some customers exhibit. The raging rants against pigeons, the OCD, trembling shakes and paranoia is something you should leave at home. It will make everyone happier and I won't have to hide the pointy things.
6) Control Your Spawn. Hey, I honestly don't care if your hyper-active kids keep pressing the wrong buttons on the Point of Sale pad. It's cute to see the kids trying to emulate Mommy. It would be nice if you saved that for a time when 6 people were not in line behind you. That said, don't get upset with us if after the third time the pin number was entered incorrectly the bank automatically shuts your card off because three attempts to run your ATM card meets the criteria for someone trying to fraudulently access your account. Don't think I did not see them chewing on the bagels you conveniently forgot to tell me you gave them while shopping, that's why they are on the bill. If you want free food go to a homeless shelter. Don't get upset with us if we ring up an item your kid put onto the belt without you noticing. We can't read your mind and from your alarming choice of diet, we certainly can't tell if you don't allow the kid to eat Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bars. We will be glad to void the item.
7) Don't Be So Touchy. It is in our official script to ask if you want any of our World-Class Carry Out Service. It's great that you are 95 years old and can still take care of yourself so please don't get angry about it. Then again, I've seen how difficult it is for you to pull 5 dollars out of your wallet so maybe you could understand why I'm offering to have one of our guys help load your car. Don't get me started on the fact that you are still driving. Don't be embarrassed about your purchases and deflect attention from what you are buying by being a jerk. When you buy petroleum jelly, duct tape, hot sauce, vodka, rope, cucumbers and contraceptives we are professional enough not to call you a freak. We are thinking it, though.

8) Don't Be A Cheap Bastard. Go ahead and make sure you get your discounts and correct prices. It is your money and you shouldn't waste it. However don't ask for two cents from the cashier's pocket to cover the remainder of the bill because you don't want to break a quarter and then have to deal with the horror of having loose change cluttering your purse. I also shouldn't have to say this and yet I have to at least once a day: The donation jar is for people with illnesses so digging into it for money to pay your bill is WRONG. Knock it off.
9) Sort Your Stuff. Don't be an idiot and put your veggies, light bulbs, bread and other crunchables at the front of the belt. Put those up last so we can put those on top of the heavy smashing things and not under them. We don't expect everything sorted by size and ingredients but help us help you by having some order to your items. Keep the chemicals, meat, cold and hot items grouped together and not all mixed up. From what I see each day regarding customers it makes me wonder how many of those reports of tainted food is actually caused by oblivious consumers doing things like laying the bottle of drain clog remover on top of the fresh vegetables on the belt. Put the heavy and extra large items on the belt first or leave them in the cart. We usually have the codes for all the big stuff we can enter by hand, saving us and you on all the lifting. It makes it easier for us to pack and reload into your cart. Unless you tweaked back and forth all over the store you probably put the items into the cart in groups, take them out the same way.

10) Get On With It
. See all previous items. You may not be aware of the fact that cashiers are evaluated by how quickly and efficiently they do their job. This is measured by computer. The cashier register database records how many scans we do, how many key errors are made and if they are corrected and how fast we do our job. Below a certain percentage of efficiency the cashier can lose their position. So it hurts our stats when we do our job with awesome skill and you are staring off into space or chattering with a friend. The clock is ticking and by delaying the end of the job order you are taking food out of the mouths of my children. I want you gone, you want to be gone, the people in line waiting for you to shut up and hand me cash want you to be gone and no one really cares about your broken windshield or child's soccer team. We just pretend to.
*I made up another new word!


  1. I worked in the grocery business for four years and agree with everything you wrote. I still feel myself clenching up against customers who are morons.
    But one request to grocery stores. If you are going to show the world how compassionate you are by hiring an elderly or developmentally disabled person as a helper clerk, don't have them bag groceries. I am sick of having my groceries still spread all over the stand while the cashier starts to ring the next customer. The odds are great that some of my items and their items are going to get switched.
    Oh and the items on the wrong shelf? 90% of the time it was a customer but the same helper clerk I just mentioned is also dumping their "go-backs" on any convinent shelf because they either don't know where they are supposed to go or just got called to the check-outs. I've witnessed this twice in the last month.
    Finally the self-serve registers are just there to eliminate employee hours. Since I don't get a discount for scanning my own groceries, but the top management increases their profits and bonuses by cutting cashier's hours I refuse to use these registers. They are not faster, since most people don't have a clue how to properly use them and still need someone to help them, I see no reason to help management screw over the cashiers.

  2. Adam: I think you have a better job than I do?

    Will: I kinda disagree with your feelings about the disabled, but I have noticed that some customers do not want assistance from some of our baggers.

  3. Egads. I think I'd come to work armed.

  4. Please don't misunderstand me about hiring the developmentally disabled (or the elderly for that matter). As a manger in grocery and retail in general I hired many people with disabilities and worked with several agencies to find and train them.. One is still at the place where I worked with him and has now been there almost ten years. He is an excellent employee and became my good friend.
    But don't put them in high profile positions where they can't do the job because you will just upset them and piss off the customers.
    Wear a ribbon to show you care and help the less fortunate succeed in the proper position.

  5. Oh yeah, I love your blog and read it daily. I would like your opinion on the Self Serve Registers. I left retail and groceries to go to school and get my Psychology degree, so I don't work where they have them. But I often wonder how the employees feel about them.
    Getting an employee to confide in a customer their opinion on a corporate project is understandably impossible, but I have asked.

  6. Self-Scan need a lot of monitoring because of the theft opportunities. I used to do an experiment when opening the store.

    The Express registers were #1 & #2, which had cashiers. The SS registers were #3-#6. We didn't open all the SS until it needed it. If I opened SS #3 first no one used it. If I opened #5 first then quite a few people would use it while ignoring the Express Registers, two of which would be open. I would would actually get a line at on SS #5 while they avoided the manned registers.

    The store I was at had 18 active manned registers open nearly all day long so I never saw it there as taking away jobs. The store was so busy all day that we were grateful for the Self Scans. I had to be careful not to put a dumbass on it because of all the thieves using them and sneaking stuff out of the store.

    However, the Self Scan registers certainly did reduce the need for actual cashiers at a store near where I lived that received less business. That store only had 10 registers, 4 of which were Self Scan and they typically only had one register open at a time during business hours.

  7. You are much more patient than I could ever hope to be. I don't have a better job, but I am lucky to be in a situation where I can tell unruly folks how the cow ate the cabbage.

  8. A decade of both food and retail experience leads me to agree with your well-thought list. Number one in particular is an irritant to me; I can't recall the number of times I've been tempted to hold up the entire line waiting for someone to complete their call, then tell them "oh, I didn't want to interrupt you!" Bastards.

    will h - I feel a bit badly for using self-serve knowing they're taking hours away from employees. They're so much fun to use though! Then again, I don't think I've witnessed anyone other than myself use one quickly, honestly, and correctly. Boy is it hilarious watching others fumble on them...sad really, given how easy they are to figure out. I mean, has no one paid attention to what the codes on fruit stickers are before?

  9. I agree to your terms on one condition- get the grocery clerks and fast food clerks near me a second brain cell.

    Every dialogue I have with them goes like this:

    Me: Hi, I would like a #4 value meal, not biggie sized, to go.

    Them: Do you want that biggie sized?

    Me: No. That's a #4 to go.

    Them: For here or to go?

    And in the grocery store:

    Them: That's $64.35

    I then have cash in hand waiting to hand it to them. At no point do they actually lift their hands to accept it. Then I get a dirty look. But no motion to accept what I am trying to hand to them.

    I guess I am supposed to leap over the divider and thrust it down their pants or something.

    They seem really confused by how to exchange money for goods, despite doing it a thousand times per day.

  10. You're telling me that the cashiers are only pretending to care, and this is supposed to be disillusioning? In Brooklyn, the cashiers would have to be under threat of dismemberment before they'd pretend to care. The apathy is overwhelming. If they speak at all, it's only because THEY'RE the ones on the cell phones. Save an express aisle for me in Maryland, my friend.

  11. I'm in California now.

    Maryland? Don't get me started. I've never been exposed to such a crappy employee pool as in that state, and I've lived all the world. My first week in MD I'm in a K-Mart buying school supplies for the kid and the cashier holds her hand up to me when I come up to the cash register and says "Go over there. Can't you see I'm talking to my friend?"

    I wanted to apply there as a manager just to fire her.

    And at the store I worked you could not get anyone to do their job. Cashiers eating full McDonald's meals at the register as they worked was not unusual, and they'd get very hostile (and ignore you) if you had them stop.


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