So you think you have it tough?

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tough dayToday was my Wal-Mart resupply run.  Just three months from the return of hurricane season means it’s time for me to “beat the rush” and get my supplies as well as fill any holes in my normal groceries.

One of the things I wanted to get done was flipping my empty propane tank for a new one.  I always have between two and three tanks at any point in time (mostly due to constant barbecuing) and I was down to only one and change.

I had hoped that I could purchase my exchange at the regular register instead of going all the way to the garden center, especially since I had my Borden’s Dutch Chocolate milk that I didn’t want to warm up.

Whatever presumed logic  or rationale behind forcing customers to go to an entirely separate register (and then go outside for the exchange), I can assure you, based on my significant experience in mass-market retailing, is entirely illogical and irrational.  But this isn’t about me and my quest for a propane refill, so read on…

I was fortunate to find a register with only one other customer, allowing me to get checked out right away.  The cashier had a bleak expression on her face so I tried some of my homespun friendliness to break her out of it.

Turns out it was her day off and I commiserated about having to come in when you expect time for yourself.  By the end of the check-out, I at least got her to smile.  Sadly, as expected, she was unable to ring up a propane exchange thus forcing me to push my cart as quickly as was safe in a Wal-Mart to the garden center.

Again, I seemed somewhat fortunate.  Though there was only one register ringing up, the lady in front of me was already halfway through her stuff and appeared prepared to handle everything swiftly.

The customer quietly told the cashier that she had not yet swiped her card, but the cashier asked her to sign.  Turns out, the previous customer had swiped the card twice and the lady in front of me had a prepaid basket.

The cashier then went out into the parking lot to hunt down the previous customer.  In the meantime, the lady, me and my Borden’s Dutch Chocolate milk and about a half-dozen people behind me waited.

While we waited, a register appeared to open up on the end of the garden center, but apparently it was closed, so I stayed put.  The cashier returned, with the customer and we all had a nice bit of chat while we waited for someone to show up to figure out what to do.

The first employee who came by didn’t know.  The next, an assistant manager, did know but apparently didn’t have the correct keys or wanted to double-check.  In the meantime, the cashier mentioned the register on the end.  I pointed out she was closed and the cashier said no, she wasn’t.

I moseyed down to the register and this cashier was flustered and frustrated.  She was supposed to be on her break 20 minutes prior but her relief had not come.  Now she was being asked to stay open.  Grumbling, she kept at her job.

There was only one customer in front of me, but before she could be rung up the other cashier came up and told the closed-but-now-open cashier she should have gone on break when she was scheduled.  As you might imagine, this did not enhance my new cashier’s outlook on life.

Still, she certainly didn’t deserve what happened next.  The lady in front of me had only two items and as I was silently thanking good fortune and hoping my Borden’s Dutch Chocolate milk was not turning into Borden’s Dutch Chocolate yogurt, she asked for a $50.00 gift card.

I watched in awe and dismay as the cashier tried one card after another, all of them being rejected by the register as previously used.  Even grabbing a card off the rack of a different register didn’t change the issue.  Finally, the customer surrendered to inevitability and said “Just get me out of here!” (Well, okay, she only said, “I’ll just take these two things”, but I’m sure she was thinking it).

Finally, it was my turn.  The cashier had regained enough composure to greet me nicely and seemed to be turning the corner.  My purchase rang up swiftly, the credit card went through fine and…her register ran out of paper.  Not only would the transaction not complete, but I couldn’t claim a new propane tank without that slip.

Of course, there were no rolls at her register.  Nor the next one.  Finally, she found one all the way on the end where I first started.  Flustered, but with great self-possession, she threaded the paper, gave me my receipt and managed a sincere “Have a nice day”.  Impressive.

The point of this lengthy tale is simply that it’s tough sledding in the mass-market retail field.  The pay is among the lowest of any job, the treatment can sometimes be dehumanizing and the scheduling can drive one mad.  It’s a job, for sure, and in tight times it’s money on the table, but that’s a ragged battle to wage every day.

And that’s not even discussing the way customers can act.  It’s surely why I always try to be as nice as possible whenever I’m shopping.  I don’t have it nearly as tough as the person wearing the name tags.

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