Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Grocery Store Chronicles: Checking Out (Part 2)

Here's the second part of my list of some times you might want to avoid a certain checkout line in the grocery store. Ever run into one of these?

The Red Tape Runaround

If you get close to the checker and happen to notice that her receipt tape has a large red stripe visible, find a new line if at all possible. The red line means that the tape is almost gone, and will probably run out before or during your turn at the register. Since the checkers must replace the tape before resuming their work, you are in for a long wait.

Inevitably, the checkstand will not have an extra roll of receipt tape in its storage area, so a manager must be summoned. When he learns that there is no extra tape at the checkstand, he will scowl because he knows the difficulty of the task before him. He will disappear for a full 10 minutes as he walks to the very back of the stockroom, then climbs up a ladder to a small shed on the far corner of the roof where these elusive rolls of tape seem to be stored. He will finally reappear, a little windblown, and toss the roll to the checker as he runs off to do another errand.

This is when you will discover that, of course, your checker, despite having worked at the store for three years, has never had to switch out one of these tapes herself. After five minutes spent fumbling with the rollers inside the register, cutting her fingers in the process, the checker will give up and call again for the manager, who is busy swimming through the store’s underground swamp to the small island guarded by alligators where the extra rolls of dimes and quarters are stored.

You get my point. If you see red, move along.

The Conversationalist

How you’ll take this next advice really depends on what kind of person you are – whether you are a person of few words who wants to get in and out of the grocery store as quickly and efficiently as possible, or if you are a person who goes to the grocery store partly out of a desire to be around other people and engage in interesting conversation.

If you’re the latter type of person, this advice doesn’t apply to you. But if you’re like me and you usually want to make the grocery store experience as brief as possible (within reason), then avoid the checker who treats each customer as one of their long-lost best friends at a high school reunion.

It’s not that these checkers are bad people. In fact, most are cheery and engaging and funny, and are quite popular with customers and management alike, as evidenced by the many “Checker of the Month” and “Best Employee” badges they wear pinned to their vests. They will likely ask -- no, demand -- your name, and there’s a good chance that if you return even weeks later and once again choose their line, they’ll remember that name and call you by it. If by chance they don't remember your name, they will be sure to call you "sweetie" or "hon" or some other generic endearment.

I must repeat that the talkative checker is many times a wonderful person to be around, but if you surrender to their charms you must give up any ideas of getting out of the store before your butter pecan ice cream melts. Their work method is something like this:

1. Introduce themselves, giving a summary of their early life, then find out your vital information (5 min.)
2. Scan two grocery items (20 sec.)
3. Discuss what both of you have been doing the past few weeks (8 min.)
4. Scan a few more items (45 sec.)
5. Ask about your children and listen to response (3 min.)
6. Make sure to give a summary of their child’s recent adventures on a school field trip (5 min.)
7. Scan a few more items (25 sec.)

Well, you get the picture.

There are some people who gladly wait a long time in line just to be checked out by these happy raconteurs of retail, and it’s a highlight of their week to be able to catch up on what Checker #5 at Wal-Mart has been up to. More power to these folks. It’s nice these days to have a little humanity mixed into the grocery store experience. But if you indeed don’t want that ice cream to melt, you might choose another line.

The Government-aided Shopper

First of all, let me say I have nothing against people whose economic status compels them to use government food programs like WIC to help them get the groceries they need to feed their families. They deserve our respect and help when it comes to trying to make ends meet.

All I’m saying is, because of the crazy way these government programs seem to work when it comes to checking out at the grocery store, you might want to avoid someone using a WIC or similar type card if you’re in a hurry. These cards apparently work like a debit card that keeps track of how much the person using them has in their account. And it seems that it’s sometimes a very difficult task for customers to remember just how much they have left on the card when they do their shopping.

As a result, what often times happens if this. The customer might choose, say, $120 worth of groceries, but after they give the WIC card to the checker and he swipes it through the machine, it indicates that there’s only $80 left of available funds on the customer's card.

Sometimes the customer will dispute this fact, requiring time to resolve the matter one way or the other, but even if they accept the fact that they only have $80 left to spend, your time in line behind them will drag on. You see, they must now look at all the food they originally selected (which often has to be un-bagged) and figure out which items they can do without to knock $40 off the total. This can take a very long time, as they consider leaving one item, then another, since many times all the food items in question are essentials and not frivolities.

There’s also the danger that one or more of the items the customer has selected are not “approved” for payment through the card (beer and cigarettes are just the two most obvious), so in this case there's often another dispute, or at least a delay, while those items are weeded out and the card is re-scanned.

Again, the problem usually lies in the cards themselves instead of the people who use them. But if you want to avoid a delay at checkout, you might choose another line.

The Wide-eyed Innocent

This final one is fairly self-evident. If you can see that your checker is a brand-new trainee (possibly even being trained right then by a hovering manager), then if you’re in a hurry you might want to choose another aisle. If you hear the manager explaining what the keys on the register are for, and how those little black lines on a package magically make the machine go "beep" when passed over it, you definitely want to switch aisles.

That's it for checking out. Coming up in my next and final post in the series – “Murphy’s Law” as applied to grocery shopping.


Mandy said...

As a cashier at a department store, I understand totally what you're talking about. Let's not forget the cashier's side of the story either:

The customers who wait until AFTER they've paid for their purchase to find a coupon buried at the bottom of their purse.

The customers who inevitably cry, "oh wait! I've got 97 cents!"

The customers who buy a cartload of clothing, wait until its bagged, then dump everything back on the counter and decide it had to be organized into five different groups.

The customers who throw a two year old's tantrum because I don't have a bag big enough for a boxed set of pots that weighs 50 pounds

And, my personal favorite, the customers who bring up a cartload of clothing, hand me one piece at a time, checking prices, make me delete half of it, then add two things back, and delete three more.

Hmmm, I think you may have inspired a post: Chronicles of a Christmas Cashier. Maybe when I get back from vacation. :)

Muley said...

Touche! Thanks for the view from the other side of the register. Don't you just want to shoot some of these people? To be fair, I think I've done the coupon thing before.

Thanks for visiting, and I'll await your piece on Christmas cashiering.

Mrs. Sinta said...

Lately, I just look for a cashier that is currently smiling. Life is just too short to spend it with unhappy/grouchy/tortured by their existence clerks.

emme said...

Thanks so much for your comments on my blog...

You have such a great sense of humor...you're always cracking me up!


Elisabeth said...

I just enjoyed reading through all of your 'Chronicles' very much. I've experienced many of the things you mentioned myself - I make the trip to the grocery store with my dad quite frequently, and I think I've seen most of the customer and cashier types you mention. An interesting variation are the customers with earpiece cell phones...the ones who walk down the aisles and go through the checkouts apparently talking to themselves. It's hard not to laugh when you're ahead of them in the checkout line.

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