Friday, July 08, 2011


Sometimes my work day at my grocery store is filled with frustration and misery. Not from policies and procedures. Never by emergencies real or perceived. Long ago the military taught me what a real emergency was and how to keep calm during it. Nothing a high-rise building or a grocery store can throw at me gets me rattled. Losing your head just makes things worse. Usually it is the little things that repeat every minute all day long day after day that make me want to crawl into a supply cabinet, shut off the lights, curl up into a ball on the floor and hallucinate happier times.

It is usually the stunning amount of stupid I deal with all day that gives me migraines. Nearly everyone I meet acts the same way and has the same problem with the same equipment. It makes me think that the earth is populated by high-functioning zombies with only a rudimentary brain stem guiding their actions. I mean, HOW HARD IS IT TO USE A PAYMENT CARD? SWIPE A DISCOUNT KEY CHAIN TAG? READ A LABEL? ENTER A PHONE NUMBER? PUNCH IN A PIN NUMBER? REALLY? HUH?

To fix this, I propose that along with those already fantastic savings a customer receives by using their loyalty card at the grocery store that buyers should receive additional discounts when they successfully do any of the following (and only because maybe since common sense doesn't work and the use of cattle-prods outside the stockyards are illegal):

A percentage off should be given to any customer that places their reusable bags in front of their order. 90% of the time the customer just stares while their entire order is bagged and then when everything is done and in the cart says "Oh, I have bags." And then wants everything taken out of plastic and put in their moldy, fungus-riddled, bacteria pockets. This is why we hate you.

On a side note, customers don't like when we throw the semi-used bags away or put them in the recycle bin and they typically remark or are hostilely emphatic that we should save them and use them for the next customer and their purchases. I am against that for a simple reason. Lets say a customer comes up with a bunch of fresh vegetables and the clerk uses a sack that the previous customer declined after their order was already bagged. As a new customer, would they be confident the bag wasn't used for insecticide, drain cleaner or meat products that leaked over the interior of the bag? What kinds of chemicals or toxins are getting transferred to that bundle of lettuce, loose carrots or box of baby cereal? Demand new bags or present your own bags at the start of the order. I do.

I think the existence of alternate universes are proven via the average grocery store. Because in what universe is it okay to just dump your hand basket of stuff on the belt and wait while we empty it, ring up your items and re-bag it? NOT THIS ONE. It really slows the lines down. So I think we should give 2% off any order where the customer empties their basket onto the belt AND then places the empty basket in a safe place under the checkout stand and not behind them on the floor so the next customer can trip and fall.

I advocate giving a substantial discount to the entire purchase of anyone who can read the [expletive deleted] point of sale pad and figure out how to swipe a payment card without assistance and five minutes of wasted time. True, payment pads may differ from store to store but they are all similar and all have text instructions if not pictures detailing how to perform each step. As someone who works a register I am mystified that so many people are unable to perform a simple electronic payment function. Electronic payment cards have been around for about three decades, people! Catch up!

4% off an order for any customer who decides they don't want their milk, ice cream, butter, meat or any other perishable item (heck, any item for that matter) and hands it to the cashier. A large part of any store's loss comes from spoiled items found dumped all over the store. Instead of stealthily depositing it in with the magazines, candy rack, on the floor or in a section that is not meant for it (don't put butter in the freezer, steaks in with the coffee, etc) give it to someone. I find ice cream left sitting in the magazine racks at the check stand nearly every day. The result is not only ruined product but a ruined magazine we have to compensate a vendor for. IF YOU DON'T WANT IT, GIVE IT TO THE CASHIER.

Anyone who hangs up the cell phone, stops playing with their e-reader or removes their ear buds in order to pay attention to the order should get another 5% off their order.

The last discount idea isn't an incentive for pulling a head out of an ass but a bonus for honesty because I'm actually shocked when it happens: Anyone actually purchasing saffron instead of just stealing it should receive an extra 20% off that item. Those little bottles of spice cost nearly $20 a piece for a few threads of flavor enhancer and hardly anyone buys them. Usually ingredient-seekers just steal it. Where I work we only stock a few bottles at a time on the shelf but it is one of the most shoplifted items in our inventory. If saffron is stocked on Monday odds are the bottle is either stolen or the bottle is opened and the contents are emptied out by Tuesday. I'm actually to the point where I effusively thank any customer who actually purchases saffron.
I'm not going to advocate that we give a discount to those customers who recognize that the employees are not robots, indentured servants or slaves. That should be the minimum expected and fines should be levied against any customer who acts out. I personally require customers to not be a-holeoids and expect them to act like human beings. Well, better human beings, actually. This doesn't apply to all customers. You know who you are. I've probably voided your order and kicked you out because of the way you have acted. Yes, I'm looking at YOU, snobby lady who voiced the opinion that "Mexicans shouldn't be allowed to shop in OUR store." If you are reading this please drop me a line and let me know what lucky establishment has had you as a customer these last two years.

Sometimes I don't understand people. The grocery business is the only industry I've ever worked in where people act like their human rights are being violated if they have to wait in line a few minutes. If lines to the cash register are long it isn't because the store is cruel or doesn't want to sell stuff. Likely it is all the people they have available.

One job site I worked required me to start shutting departments early and sending staff home if the store did not make 80k in sales by noon. Falling short of that sales goal was an indicator that the store would not be profitable that day unless we cut operating costs. If you don't like the wait then please call and let the management know staffing isn't adequate. DON'T call and lie saying the staff wasn't helpful or ignored you. They can't magically poop trained and certified cashiers or clerks out of their butts. Overtime in most instances is not allowed so staff are required to leave when their shifts end, even if it is inconvenient to you. State and Federal laws determine when and how breaks and meal times are to be taken and it may not coincide a break in customer visits. FYI: Not going to a meal break on time means a large fine for the store from the state and usually results in the employee losing their job after three or less incidents.

Probably not. The economy is bad, sales are worse and there are few grocery stores that can operate with a full staff that might possibly be idle for a few minutes during the day. Under-staffed and hoping for the best is the standard operating procedure. One major grocery chain in San Diego is removing all the self-checkout lines because they are not profitable, taking up more time than they are worth. This won't mean a corresponding increase in cashiers either, just a sort of precarious balance in customers to staff. There will undoubtedly be good and bad experiences for customers when this happens.

I have been assaulted by customers and witnessed the same to co-workers due to long lines (a five-ten minute wait at most). I have been punched, poked, screamed at and had canned foods thrown at me. One employee had a pizza whipped at her face like a Frisbee from a customer who refused to wait in line. Most recently, a cup of hot coffee was splashed over an employee by an angry customer at one of our job sites. Shrieking rage is often expressed at the staff. People have screamed curses, shaking with anger that since there are not "enough checkers" they are justified in walking out with their full baskets.

Ironically when areas of San Diego were devastated by fires a few years ago and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced civility was the rule. Stores were jammed with people buying supplies to use or donate for relief. I did not experience anyone acting out. They were patient, kind and for the most part realistic about goods running out (though one couple asked for a discount on spices and gourmet foods because their personal chef was inconvenienced by the quality of goods stocked in the hotel they occupied during the fire). I just wish that people acted on a typical Friday night like they did back during the brush fires.


  1. One of the best Blog posts I've read in a long time. It's been years since I worked a register, but damn, it seems nothing's changed.

  2. I can only confirm that the things you describe also bother people trying to be good customers when they see their less thoughtful counterparts pulling these shenanigans. I would be well pleased to shop at a store run according to the principles you set forth here...and I'm not merely saying that because of the 31% discount you've just given me on my saffron.

  3. Thanks, Scott. And RAB, yeah sometimes I see people get bothered by the actions of other customers but in three years I have only witnessed one person step up and actually say anything. He told her to shut up and be glad she wasn't at Costco if lines bothered her so much.

  4. I'd vote for you. ;) Great, honest post, Chief.

  5. Are you familiar w/Norm Feuti's comic strip, RETAIL?

    If not, you should be...

  6. Heh. I'm adding that to my webcomic list.


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