"Anyone who believes the competitive spirit in America is dead has never been in a supermarket when the cashier opens another checkout line." —Ann Landers
Your Turn, NH, a weekly New Hampshire Union Leader feature, gave ink to young Natasha Cole of Hudson, a U-Mass Lowell Student and cashier to speak out to the diseased and afflicted unwashed masses. Cole asks customers to, "Have some courtesy for your cashiers this holiday season," and not to spew her with your collection of germs and bodily juices while shopping at the local grocery store. The points made by Cole are valid. No dispute there. I know nobody who desires to get sick over the holiday season, much less anytime.
I, as a consumer, being forced to use such establishments, am not lost on Cole's underlying sentiments. In fact, those very establishments that Natasha speaks of have overtly acknowledged the need for such disease consciousness with the installation of sanitary wipe dispensers at the grocery store point of entry. Customers are able to wipe down the shopping cart handle. Waterless hand sanitizer is also often present. But while the topic of exposure minimization would appear to be the thesis, the underpinning thesis her topic is couched in, is courtesy. Grocery stores! absolute fodder for social scientists and cultural commentators like me, so I would be remiss pass up such an opportunity to address...even expand the concept of grocery store courtesy.
This is one of those moments in time when a person in a customer service role asks her customers to do something for her. With the additional descriptors, "gross" and "eww!" it deigns a noticeable condescension ..." Perhaps one day she might have a booger-faced laden toddler of her own, that, like so many others, she will promptly plunk down into the seat of a filthy shopping cart deign a second thought as she soldiers on with the task at hand. Kids can be paradigm-shifters for certain.
Now, about those sanitizers in the foyer of the grocery store: Clearly a splendid idea! I commend retailers who place them, but at the same time, I have to ask if they are serious about customer concerns for sanitization. When promotional soft drink cases are stacked six feet high along a wall directly in front of those sanitizers, what then is the priority? Such "marketing" makes retrieving a wipe a formidable task for even the most able-bodied shopper. How about when a customer seeks to find a sanitary wipe and is instead met with an empty wipe container? Is that consistent customer focus?
A trip to the grocery store is frequently intertwined with other daily tasks, thus, efficiency of the task is a priority. But I have found such efficiencies, often thwarted by large pallets of products blocking aisles and an associate stocking shelves, all the while oblivious to the customer activity around them. Like a curmudgeon gardener swatting at bees....Tripping over an empty produce cartons in the produce section is a regular source of irritation. (Lucky it's me, others might try to sue).
Why do my fellow customers have to be so damned obnoxious about grocery shopping? When we drive down the road, we stay to the right. It is a mindset we adopt for driving. So why then do people dart about in stores in front of others, abruptly halting his or her cart and proceed to block the entire aisle to the exclusion and hindrance of other shoppers? And why do some have to hold up check-out lines for what seems like an endless moment in time with inane and lengthy lottery purchases? Finally, I have to say it... if you smell bad, take a shower or stay home.
The Grocery store cashier is a perfect case study and argument for going to the self-scan lines. Cashiers: Why must you carry on a conversation with a co-worker at the register, never once making eye-contact with the customer whose purchases you are tallying? Here is a newsflash for you cashiers: "We customers care little (if at all) about your social life at that moment in time." We don't want to hear who is having a baby or who got drunk last night. And of course, I would be remiss in leaving out the lackadaisical cashier, moving at the speed of "turtle" with a sigh every fourth product that screams, "I'd rather be watching paint dry." These people bring inner pain to the check-out experience. A faux sense of urgency and intention would send a more positive message to the customer in line.
I cannot possibly understand how concern for germs could be so paramount when the cashier is not even paying attention to the task at hand. Inattentive Cashiers are a major source of anxiety for customers because while the cashier is not paying attention, a miss-priced product has just rung through and now the customer has to raise the voice decibel level in order to break into such conversations. And the response is usually pretty generic: a confused look with a grimace signaling inconvenience.
How about the person bagging my groceries? If I do not make a quick spot check of the area, I often find that he or she has left a bag of my items out of my cart. Instead of giggling and firing a dismissive "sorry," stop for three seconds, feign some sincerity, make eye contact and say, "I apologize for that," and place the item in the cart.
Many like me choose not to deal with store staff for the aforementioned reasons. With self-scan check-outs, this becomes easier. But even these self-scan registers are problematic with the occasional customer in front of you who reads each product label as he or she scans the item. Or when the Machine runs out of printer, paper and you have to watch the line grow behind you while the associate struggles to change it. In July of this year, a grocery store chain out west announced it would be doing away with its' self check-outs because it desired to interact with its' customers....EPIC FAIL.
To be fair, I note the store deli. This particular group of associates seems to have nailed it when it comes to customer service. The make eye contact, they seem to listen intently, the make sure they hear what you asked for, and they seem to field customer requests with a sense of seriousness and urgency. And they are courteous!
To Natasha Cole, if unhealthy habits witnessed every day at a grocery store are seminal enough to write about in the Union Leader, perhaps you might lead the effort to better serve your customers. I think Natasha will find that awareness is on the rise and more customers are making full use of the sanitizers, (when provided and available, that is). Most customers will exercise a general modicum of courtesy for others. But Ms. Cole also has to accept the reality of the self-absorbed never-ending sea of stupid people who will not occupy five seconds of courteous thought within their daily movements, thus making life for the rest of us that much more irritating. But concern yourself with those of the unwashed masses like me, Ms. Cole. Chances are you will very rarely, if ever have to interface with us because we are in the self-can line for our not wanting to deal with you.
cross-posted at GraniteGrok