Confessions of a check-out chick

As a customer, I might be a bit…well…shit.

How do I know this, and why am I only finding out now?

Do you want the long story or the short? Ok, I’ll get straight to the point.

I spent two hours behind a cash register in a retail environment the other day and some of my customers were annoying. And I’m embarrassed to say, I too display some of ‘those’ habits…the ones where we think we’re being helpful.


It is not helpful to say you don’t want a bag when I’ve already packed your goods in one. Environment 1, me, the patient checkout-chick, 0. Now you’ve made me feel like a dimwit,  there’s a bag on the loose in my cramped workspace and I’m second guessing my formula for not charging customers twice for their goods, by putting those already scanned in. the. bag.

It is not necessary to give me a $20 for your $13.45 purchase and then, just as I have counted out your $6.55 change and am handing it over, you decide you do have the right change after all! You empty the contents of your purse onto the counter and start behaving like The Count from Sesame Street. Do you have any idea what that does to a numerically challenged wordsmith?

When you are third in line and waiting patiently for a numerically-challenged wordsmith to remember how to do an EFTPOS transaction, don’t pretend to smile and instead grimace as you realise your lunch hour is draining away like your very lifeblood.

It just makes me more nervous, I start to flap, and I go s.l.o.w.e.rrrrr…..

Another interesting observation was that some customers think the server is a servant, and somehow beneath them.

Please do say ‘hi’ when I greet you and let me know if you’re having a good day when I ask – being economical with your words is not saving you time. It is making me wonder though at how often our service personnel have to put up with being ignored. And customers complain about bad service!

I’ve never learnt how to work a cash register which means that a skill vital to perhaps jagging a lifesaving job during hard times is an intimidating mystery to me – a generous family member stepped in and offered to have her staff teach me. They said it was easy. I’m not so sure.

These women have been working the register in a retail environment for years and the role is an extension of their personalities. They are generous and knowledgeable and friendly, and see the gamut of humanity as it slides through the checkout daily.

From the woman who bought eight $1 cards for the birthdays she will be helping others celebrate this month to the unsure young fellow who spent 30 minutes searching for just the right gift for his girlfriend, to the elderly parent taking their middle aged daughter with Down syndrome for her weekly shopping outing, to the headscarf wearing handyman in search of mousetraps to halt the unwelcome vermin insistent on sitting in front of his heater as he watched the 6 o’clock television news, the rainbow of human allsorts will generally go through a cash register at some point in their normal day.

I realised that the time in service both flies and drags, that the feeling of exhaustion after standing for only two hours almost gets through to your marrow, that a 30 minute lunch break is gone in the blink of an eye, that checking a $100 bill transaction with a colleague can prevent a suspicious discrepancy over the correct change, that sometimes going through a checkout might be the only social intercourse some people will have all day.

Little old ladies with their old fashioned clip top purses, jingling with coins, mums on the look-out for cheap craft items for their children, grandmothers treating their progeny with an inexpensive purchase just for fun, men in search of cheap batteries and light bulbs, others for that perfect gift for the woman in their lives.

And then there is the retail environment itself – these women notice if their local shopping centre is having a busy day, it’s a subject of earnest discussion, like the weather. When people don’t spend money, discretionary or otherwise, people’s jobs are on the line.

One till operator, who unpacks and marks down goods between customers, was adjusting to a third less hours as staffing numbers were adjusted in line with the shopping habits of our cautious, cash-strapped society.

There. I said it would be the short version! Never look a gift shop in the mouth – it is a microcosm of human experience that ends with the patient operator at the exit counter. Give them a real smile and engage in some simple banter. It’s priceless.


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