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How To Be a Better Customer

July 12, 2012

As a produce clerk, a large part of my job involves interacting with customers, an activity that consists of equal parts smiling and nodding at strangers with shopping carts and struggling to keep snide remarks to myself. Now before you get the wrong idea, not all of my customer encounters annoy me; in fact, many such situations in the course of a typical day are perfectly pleasant. For example, a customer might walk up to me, lost and confused, and ask, “Where can I find the lemons?” Since I spend far, far too much time in the presence of said lemons, I know exactly where they are, so with a smile and a cheery “Right over here!” I can easily lead said customer to the desired citrus, leaving both of us feeling good – the customer because he now has his lemons and me because I enjoy helping people, and also because when he pays for those lemons he’s helping cover my paycheck.

There are, however, some things that customers do that never fail to rustle my jimmies, and while it would hardly be right to darken their day by expressing my annoyance at something that wasn’t even intended to annoy me (not to mention the whole they’re-subsidizing-my-paycheck thing from earlier), I thought I’d take a moment now that I’m off the clock and it’s nothing personal to get it off my chest, so here are a few of those pesky little customer habits that the world would be better off without. You may see something on this list that you’ve done without even noticing it. If so, don’t worry – people do it all the time (hence why it’s become annoying), and deep down my coworkers and I know that you’re not to blame. Just take note so that next time you go into the store you can be a better customer.

1. Asking “Do you work in this department?” when it’s painfully obvious that I do. If you see a guy who is wearing the store’s basic uniform, a hat, and an apron, holding a box of salad, and placing the aforementioned salad onto the salad display, please, I beg of you, do not ask him if he works in produce. Whenever people ask me that, it takes so much energy to say “Yes” instead of “No, sorry, this is my hobby. I just really love dressing up like an employee and pretending to work at different stores see how long it takes before someone realizes I don’t belong there. My favorite place so far is Pizza Hut, where I sneak hot peppers onto as many pizzas as I can. My record is twenty-eight.” Use your deductive reasoning, put hat and lettuce together, and come to the conclusion that it’s probably safe to just skip straight to “where can I find the dried cherries”.

2. Not asking “Do you work in this department?” if it’s not clear whether or not I do. So there I am, heading back to the punch clock at the end of my lunch break. I speed walk through the store like a man on a mission, avoiding eye contact and holding my phone in one hand to dampen the employee-on-duty signals coming from my red shirt. Everything is going well, until I get within fifty feet of the backroom door. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, an old lady swoops in and demands that I show her to something known only as “salad seasoning”. I’ve never heard of such a thing, and I don’t know where hardly anything in grocery is, but I’m trapped now. Five minutes that should have been clocked as work are now counted as lunch instead while I wander the aisles forlornly looking for an item that, as it turns out, doesn’t even exist. Don’t be that customer. When in doubt, go ahead and ask, because while good ol’ number 1 can be mildly annoying, being trapped in an unfamiliar department and running the risk of a late break is a fair sight worse.

3. Profusely excusing yourself for not knowing where an item is. It’s okay, I know you haven’t been to this store in a while, maybe in your whole life. On top of that, we move things around more often than you might think, and even the every-Friday-at-three veteran shoppers can get confused at times. We all overlook things; that’s what I’m here for. I couldn’t know the layout of the department better if I lived there. People are paying me to know where things are and to pass on this information to you on demand. This is a normal, everyday thing and I am not going to judge you as a person for asking me to help you find that elusive fruit or vegetable. Well, maybe a little judgment if the thing you’re looking for is close enough that I can reach out and touch it, but other than that you need no excuse. I’m happy to help you, so don’t mar that happiness by repeating “they must’ve moved it, yeah, that’s it, they definitely moved it” or “I must be blind, walked right past it” just barely loud enough for me to hear it, as if trying feebly to convince me (and yourself) that you’re really not all that bad at finding things in unfamiliar places. Relax, my friend. It’ll make this easier on all of us.

4. Apologizing for “wrecking” my display. It never ceases to amaze me just how many people will come over while I’m stocking a display, reach for a banana or a radish or whatever it is I’m stocking, then suddenly give a wry smile and say, “I’m just gonna go ahead and wreck your beautiful display here”. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be apologetic or somehow funny in a tongue-in-cheek, “oh, aren’t I such a rebel” sort of way, but either way it seems an odd thing to say, especially since most people say it as if it were the most original line in the world. When I’m at the store, I usually just give an obligatory chuckle, but someday the sarcasm in me is probably going to win out and I’ll just turn and say, “Put that back. Now. I’m preparing this banana display for a photo shoot, not so filthy rabble from off the streets can just come in and buy the things. Now get out of the way so my crew can get the lighting set up, we’re on a tight schedule.” It’s a store, kids. The display is only there to hold things until you’re ready to take them away and pay money for them. You’re serving your purpose admirably when you “wreck my display”, no need to awkwardly apologize.

5. Dropping food on the floor and/or running over it. This last point hardly needs any further explanation, but it seems people don’t realize the carnage that they wreak when they hit a cherry with their cart. That juice sticks to the wheel and creates a blood-red streak that follows you everywhere you go for the next five minutes, leaving a circuitous trail of cherry juice that strikes despair into the heart and forearms of all mop-wielding produce clerks who behold it. Only you can prevent the Juice Streak O’ Doom. Do your part – watch where you walk.

And there you have it! If you keep away from those five little practices of the unpleasant shopper, you’ll go a long way toward improving the morale in your local superstore, and it’ll be that much easier for me and my colleagues to give you an earnest “Thanks for shopping with us!” when you go.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2012 8:19 pm

    Our daughter works in grocery stores. I am sure she would sympathize with you.

  2. Mander permalink
    July 13, 2012 12:59 pm

    Ohhhh boy! I can relate on so many levels! I do not work in a grocery store but, I have worked in fast food. The stories I could share. Lol. Or with my current work… but that involves HIPAA violations, so I won’t.

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