Checkout Purgatory

The check­out clerks (girls most­ly) at my gro­cery store have a strange habit of not acknowl­edg­ing the next cus­tomer until the cur­rent one has paid. So there’s often a point where the cur­rent cus­tomer has passed the cash reg­is­ter to put their gro­ceries in a cart, and they’re just wait­ing for their cred­it card to go through.

I end up stand­ing right in front of the clerk, who won’t say any­thing, even though you know they see you out of their periph­er­al vision. They only say hel­lo as soon as the pre­vi­ous cus­tomer has been rung through. Like they’re com­put­ers who can’t han­dle more than one task per per­son at a time.

It’s quite awk­ward.


  1. I too have noticed this trend. Unless its a local mom and pop store where every­body knows every­body and they speak to every­one in the store at the same time. Long gone are the days of peo­ple being capa­ble of mul­ti task­ing and even longer gone are the days of true cus­tomer ser­vice.

  2. I think what is hap­pen­ing more and more, is the cashier ring­ing your whole order through and not bag­ging any­thing. It’s very frus­trat­ing and it seems that they want the cus­tomer to do all the work.

  3. With a large order, the com­pe­tent ones don’t bag as they go along so that they can put the heav­ier, stronger items at the bot­toms of the bags; course, the corol­lary of that is the nitwits who just drop every­thing in willy-nil­ly so that the eggs and bananas are destroyed and your crack­ers and chips turned into dust.

  4. I don’t think any­one who’s worked a cash reg­is­ter at a Taco Bell here could say that the days of mul­ti task­ing are dead, oh no, quite the oppo­site.

    As for the not speak­ing to you thing, that is a pur­pose­ful sig­nal to you that they are not yet wait­ing on you, since the per­son in front of you (at least where I shop) fre­quent­ly turns around with their reciept in hand, JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS TIME FOR YOUR TURN, to whine and com­plain that the clerk did­n’t take some stu­pid coupon price off their total, or some such rub­bish. Clerks are now mak­ing damn sure they are fin­ished, because try­ing to untan­gle a mess once you’ve start­ed to ring up anoth­er cus­tomer on their new com­put­er sys­tems is a pain in the ass.

  5. @Lucy — What real­ly gets me is the speed at which the clerks move. Even when I pur­pose­ly go to a store dur­ing off-hours to avoid the lines, it seems like they know it’s not busy so they take their time.

    @J. — I have to admit, the clerks at my store are good at mak­ing sure every­thing is bagged, some­times even mak­ing sure there’s an extra per­son at the end of the counter. It does­n’t quite make up for the rude ser­vice though.

    @Michael — At my store, each check­out line has two or three bag hold­ers, so the clerks have a bit of buffer when try­ing to pack items with­out squash­ing them. I pur­pose­ly put the heav­ier items on the belt first though and pro­ceed by weight to make it eas­i­er for them, and maybe this is why I’ve nev­er seen them have a prob­lem bag­ging things.

    @Xibee — I can see your point there, about how much of a has­sle it is to untan­gle a mess once you’ve moved on to the next cus­tomer, but at the time when the pre­vi­ous cus­tomer is wait­ing for their cred­it card to go through and you’re face to face with the clerk, a sim­ple hel­lo would suf­fice. It’s not nec­es­sary for them to start scan­ning your items to acknowl­edge that you’re there.

  6. Perhaps they think that it’s only right to give their 100% atten­tion to one cus­tomer at a time? :D

  7. I agree with Xibee and pelf . I use to work in retail (I will nev­er go back). And most of the times it’s because when you acknowl­edge a cus­tomer they auto­mat­i­cal­ly assume it’s their turn. I’ve had cus­tomers who have lit­er­al­ly pushed an old lady out of their way because they are just to impa­tient to wait for her. (I know! Yikes!)

  8. @pelf — Personally, I don’t think that say­ing hel­lo to some­one take the atten­tion away from anoth­er cus­tomer (unless they were mid-sen­tence, of course), but that’s just me.

    @chunlei — I can total­ly see an acknowl­edg­ment lead­ing some­one to believe it’s their turn. Maybe the patient ones among us pay for the rude­ness of oth­ers.

  9. This just proves to me that you’re Canadian. Pleasantness and good­na­tured­ness is so accept­ed as a giv­en require­ment in Canada. I expe­ri­ence it when I go to Vancouver all the time.

    It’s like the sen­tence that my hus­band and I burst out laugh­ing over on some crime show last night. A char­ac­ter was telling a detec­tive about the whether the vic­tim, a young girl, might have com­mit­ted sui­cide. He replied in the neg­a­tive:
    “She had that Canadian thing going on, you know?”
    “How do you mean?”
    “You know — hap­py for no rea­son.”

  10. I’d say that a lot of it also has to do with the fact that I work at a com­pa­ny which real­ly empha­sizes ser­vice. I’ve learned to go above and beyond what would be con­sid­ered reg­u­lar ser­vice, and it’s ruined me for any­thing less in return.

  11. just to add to what xibee said, a sim­ple eye con­tact from a clerk is enough to get the next cus­tomer in some cas­es to start in a mono­logue train that can’t be stopped and then the almost fin­ished cus­tomer is put in the posi­tion of butting in when their turn was­n’t over yet.

  12. I for­got about the loqua­cious ones, and can total­ly under­stand when one of them feels like they’re being snubbed if the pre­vi­ous cus­tomer has an issue with which to deal.

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