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The Shopping Experience: How to Save Time, Energy, and Prevent Stress for Your Store Clerk

Updated on November 23, 2013
Store clerks try to provide the best service possible
Store clerks try to provide the best service possible | Source

Our Side of the Story

Many training programs are available to teach customer service personnel how to provide the most friendly, efficient service. However, many people don’t understand, “the other side of the coin.” No one has ever compiled tips for customers to help them avoid those things that create unique stressors for someone working with the public.

I have worked as a cashier/bagger at a large local grocery store for a total of more than a dozen years. I have encountered every type of customer from adorable elderly couples to the two guys who nearly broke into a fistfight in my checkout lane. I remember stories like the one about the lady who threw the “Lane Closed” sign at one of our cashiers, even though she was told she would be waited on. There are definitely customers with whom we’ve developed friendships and a few we put through as quickly as possible while breathing prayers for strength.

This article contains a list that has come together through many days of observation and frustration, confirmed by things my coworkers have expressed as well. Taking them to heart will help make your shopping experience positive for everyone.

Shop “off hours” to avoid crowds

Statistics show that peak times for shopping on both weekdays and weekends tend to be from noon to six p.m., on average. Arranging for your shopping trips before or after these times, will help you avoid long lines and reduce the potential for unexpected, stressful delays.

However, sometimes your needs can’t wait and you have to shop on the run. Just be forewarned and don’t get angry with us for things beyond our control that cause you a delay, i.e., It’s busier than you expected and we’re short on help, price checks, crotchety credit card machines that decide to freeze up, etc. At my job, for example, we also have to clean the excess cash and all payment slips from our drawers every couple of hours, count it all, and hand it over to the supervisor. Please understand I am just doing my job. I don’t make you wait on purpose.

Implement strategies to keep your kids calm and happy

I love it when mom and dad bring their adorable little munchkins through my lane. They’re the next best thing to getting my paycheck.

However, sometimes little Johnny, otherwise a well-behaved child, chooses to vent just when you are hoping to have a quick, cost-efficient and peaceful shopping experience. You cringe as his shrieks waft down the aisles or along the lines at checkout. You’re sure everyone is glaring at you.

Since small children are often tired and hungry by the end of a grueling shopping trip, you might want to wait until after naptime and divvy out healthy snacks to satisfy hungry tummies and help prevent impulse buys.

If your major kiddy meltdowns happen because you said no to Johnny, lay down firm ground rules for in-store behavior before leaving home along with sure consequences for breaking them. Also consider a sitter to give yourself a break if the “I want” urges are too much for your little tyke.

Click on the following link for some ideas to make shopping errands easier for the whole family:

A Calculator Will Help You Keep Track of Your Total
A Calculator Will Help You Keep Track of Your Total | Source

Bring a calculator and keep track as you go

If you are working within a budget, bring a calculator, and a pen and pad of paper with a list of items you will stick to. Write the price of each item next to its name on your list and keep track of your total with the calculator. That way, you can rest easy, knowing you won’t have the embarrassment of eliminating items at checkout when you find you’ve overextended yourself. If it is busy, baggers won’t need to leave their posts to return the armful of perishables you may have had to relinquish.

Read sale signs in detail
Read sale signs in detail | Source

Please read sale signs very carefully

Sorry to say, but my experience is that ninety percent of the time, when a customer questions a price at checkout, they are wrong because they have not read the sale signs in detail.

Sale signs have all the information needed to determine if a specific item you want to purchase is included in the sale. Size or weight, name brand, style or flavor and price can be found on that little bit of paper. If the flavor or style is not included in the sale, there will be NO sign below it. Often, not every flavor is included in the special deal.

For example, let’s say that 64 oz. bottles of a particular brand of fruit drinks are on sale. The brand comes in six different flavors: lemon, orange, strawberry, blue raspberry, grape or pomegranate. They are on sale for $1.79 each. If you look carefully, you will see that only the lemon, blue raspberry, grape and orange flavors have signs under them with the sale price on them. And each sign also has on it the name of the flavor under which it is positioned. There are NO signs under the strawberry and pomegranate. This means those two flavors are NOT included in the sale.

And please don’t assume an item is on sale just because a sale sign happens to be nearby. That sign may refer to a completely different product on the shelf adjacent to what you want. Read signs in their entirety and see if they really do apply to your specific product.

Abandoned perishables can spoil
Abandoned perishables can spoil | Source

Put perishable items back where they belong if you decide against them while still in the store

You can also hand them to an employee to return. At the very least, please deposit them in the nearest refrigerated display. (This does not apply to frozen foods! These must be returned to the freezer!) If discarded just any old place, these items will spoil if not discovered in time and the store takes the loss. Lost revenue will only drive prices higher for you, the customer.

Look around for cashiers that have no customers

When you approach the checkout lines, you’ll get through faster if you scan the entire area for a lane that has no one waiting. We cashiers like to share the wealth and get frustrated if certain checkout lanes are doing all the work while our coworkers stand around chatting because very few customers notice they are there.

Please refrain from cell phone use while being waited on!
Please refrain from cell phone use while being waited on! | Source

Hold those calls!

We can serve you better if you forgo cell phone at checkout. If the call is urgent, finish up before getting in line. We understand that one of your pet peeves is when coworkers talk to each other rather than give you the undivided attention you deserve. We appreciate it if you’re all there for us to engage with as well. It is common knowledge that it is bad manners to talk on the cell phone when you are in a social setting, etc. Please extend that courtesy to your few minutes with your cashier.

Please respect the needs of others who qualify for the express lane
Please respect the needs of others who qualify for the express lane | Source

Please respect the express lane

We really don’t mind if you have a few items over limit. But please don’t ask us to take larger orders just because we have no one and the other lanes have lines. Think of how you would feel if you had to wait at the express lane with your small order while someone with a full cart checks out ahead of you. Please consider others.

We really don’t mind if you have a few items over limit. But please don’t ask us to take larger orders just because we have no one and the other lanes have lines. Think of how you would feel if you had to wait at the express lane with your small order while someone with a full cart checks out ahead of you. Please consider others.

ANOTHER TIP: If I have a couple of customers in line at express and the regular lane next door has no one, feel free to switch lanes. Express is fast, not because the cashier is especially speedy, but because customers with small orders move through more quickly. Also keep in mind that in some stores where other lanes normally have baggers, the express lane clerk often has double duty.

Use of the divider prevents confusion at checkout
Use of the divider prevents confusion at checkout | Source

Use the divider

I’ve encountered folks who don’t even look for the divider and let their things crowd right up against the end of the order ahead of them. Then they get angry with me for running the two orders together. Since I can’t watch everything at once, using the divider will show me clearly where one order ends and the other begins. If you can’t find a divider, I’ll be happy to hand it you if it’s strayed from its usual spot. Or just let me know where your order starts.

Keep your groceries intact by placing one neat layer of items on the belt

We know you want to get your purchases safely from your shopping cart to your pantry shelves and refrigerators. Wise loading of the belt is a must here. I’ve seen customers stack plastic containers filled with our soup and salad items three high or pile their groceries helter-skelter in a completely disorganized heap.

Belt motion can be jerky as it moves forward and those items can tumble onto the floor and spill, shatter or bruise. We then have to close down our lane in order to clean up the mess and you face a wait while we get you a replacement item. You will get through the check out process just as quickly if not more quickly, if you place one neat layer of things on the belt. The bagger can snag an empty cart if you have a large order and he needs a place for already filled grocery bags.

BONUS TIP: Organize your items by type as you place them on the belt, i.e., all produce together, all meat, frozen and dairy together, all non-food/cleaning items together. This helps the packing process go faster, making it easy for the bagger to put like items together. Your unpacking at home will be more efficient as well.

Please be sensitive if I'm not smiling

As customer relations people, we strive to create a cheerful, welcoming atmosphere. We know that many of you have heavy burdens weighing on you and so we understand if you are exhausted or sad. Personally, I couldn’t be happier if something I did or said lifts your spirits or gives you some hope for your situation.

So we appreciate your sensitivity if we can’t always muster a happy smile; Some of us are also dealing with our own tough issues outside of our jobs. Sometimes we’re lucky just to have made it in and are barely holding on. One employee at my store came to work just days after his best friend was murdered. Another coworker is often exhausted from caring for her aged mother and putting up with nightly harassment from her neighbors. So please refrain from reminders to “smile,” or, “Come on. It can’t be all that bad.” We’re only human and life is too much for us sometimes too.

There’s a certain joke….

We enjoy customers who make us laugh. I know one wonderful young man with Down syndrome who shops with his mother and loves to share his latest corny joke.

But you might want to avoid one we’ve heard a million times: When we encounter a price code that, for whatever reason, won’t scan, customers often respond with, “I guess that’s free.” I fear that one’s older than dirt.

Let us know if you want cash back when paying with your debit card

We try to pay attention but sometimes we are multi-tasking, i.e., bagging your items, moving the belt ahead for the next customer’s order, etc. We aren’t always looking at the register screen. Telling us you are going to ask for cash back helps things to go more smoothly. And you won’t risk leaving the store without your money because you got distracted as well.

Paying with a large collection of smaller denominations really slows things down!
Paying with a large collection of smaller denominations really slows things down! | Source

Let the bank count your collection of coins or dollar bills

Management likes when our drawers are even at the end of our shifts. So we have to count that pile of ones you got from tips or the $15 in assorted coins you were saving for a rainy day. Have your bank teller count your collection and give you larger denomination bills in return. (Forget the rolls of coins. We have to open those and count them too.)

Don’t put your cashier in the middle

If you want to pay your friend or family member’s bill and suspect they might refuse you, please let them pay and then settle with them later. Having two people holding out payment to the cashier and arguing, however good-naturedly, about whose paying, puts me in an awkward position. I don’t want to offend either of you so I don’t know whose money to take.

Shopping carts are not trash receptacles!
Shopping carts are not trash receptacles! | Source

Place your trash in the trash receptacles provided around the store

Trashcans are situated at stations where food samples are available and most checkout stations can also dispose of things for you if you hand it to us. Your bagger will appreciate not having to tidy the cart before he can place your bags in it. And you can be sure the next customer to use the cart will be glad it’s clean as well.

Take your shopping cart with you to the nearest cart area when done at checkout

Our baggers and supervisors can then continue to work and not need to deal with the clutter left by carts abandoned near our registers.

Please return your carts to the cart corral
Please return your carts to the cart corral | Source

Leave your cart in the cart corral, not in your parking space

This leaves the parking space for cars and makes it easier for the cart pushers to keep the store supplied. Additionally, the cart will not be prone to wander the parking lot in a stiff breeze, endangering nearby vehicles.

One final word

Courtesy and respect are bedrock practices that encompass all viewpoints and situations. I hope you now have a better understanding of what store employees face on a daily basis and how to you might make things just a bit easier for all of us.

Thanks so much for shopping and hope you return again so you and I can work together as a team for the best shopping experience possible!


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    • cheryllynneweber profile image

      Cheryl Lynne Weber 4 years ago from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

      In writing this post, I wanted to be at least civil in my attitude. Cashiers offer a valuable service to the public but all of us, store clerks and customers/consumers, are only human. I really do care about my customers but there are just some things that really bug me and I had to "get it off my chest."