In typical fashion, when you are done shopping, you head to the checkout. A line is normal in most places, which means you may take out your phone to fiddle around with while waiting to make a purchase. But suddenly, it dawns on you that you forgot to call Jeremy and tell him about the super awesome date you had last night. Good thing this line is long! All the while the line steadily dwindles down and you’re next to be rung out. Ah, I can keep chatting with Jeremy. It’s no big deal, you think. I’m here to tell you yes, it is a big deal — for the cashier it is anyway.
A cashier is standing hours on end making small talk with strangers about how their shopping experience was. Cashiers provide a service to you (in essence) by gathering all the items you want to purchase together and ringing them out. To me, it is just plain rude to continue having a conversation when an employee is doing his or her best to make sure your shopping experience was stellar. But with a customer chatting away on the phone not paying attention to me, it feels like I am a nuisance getting in the way of your ever-so-important conversation. This week, this is what really grinds my gears. (It may not be fair to cast another post about the retail world on you guys two weeks in a row, but alas, that’s happening.)
To be fair, as an employee in the retail realm, I am not omni-bubbly. A lot goes on in a singular shift that can cause an employee to lose steam. Dealing with unruly or discourteous people tends to make a smile fade fast. So I may not necessarily have a huge smile on my face while cashiering. But I digress. When there is a long line at the register, I have been instructed to summon another employee via walkie-talkie to ring out customers as well. During the daytime, it is frequently women with young children who come in. But during an afternoon, or worse, a Saturday, everyone and their third cousin once removed have the shopping bug as well. That’s when the long lines begin.
I know numerous places are now incorporating self-checkouts into stores for customers. I enjoy using the self-checkout when I am at the grocery store and am solely getting milk or Cheez-Its (a staple in my life). But it isn’t that simple in clothing stores. Countless articles of clothing have security sensors attached to them, and, well, if it were easy for a customer to remove them, then there might be a lot more theft in stores. So, I am there not only to gather together the clothes you want to purchase, but also there to ensure A) all security tags are removed and B) making sure when the alarm doesn’t go off when you leave. (Cashiers are only human; sometimes we don’t notice when an item still has a security sensor on it. Sorry if you’ve ever had to bring an item back because of that. I apologize for cashiers everywhere.)
That being said, it is strange to me that a person thinks it would be all right to babble away on his or her phone when I am trying to explain that certain items are up to 50 percent off. That doesn’t mean everything is 50 percent off; reading the fine print helps. A teacher wouldn’t pick up a phone in the middle of explaining how long division works to talk about how that super awesome date went last night. (Or maybe a teacher would, I don’t know; I’m not a teacher). What is happening in the present is a tad bit more important than gabbing with your gal pals, to me that is.
Another reason this grinds my constantly-ticking gears is that voice mail exists. So does texting. When your phone rings, it doesn’t mean you have to pick it up immediately. Whoever is calling you can leave you a voice mail, telling you what he or she is calling you about. Or rather, with teens in the 21st century, they’ll call you, and if you don’t pick up, they’ll immediately send you a text message instead of leaving a voice mail. This is the purpose of voice mail, for a person to let you know why he or she is calling and for you to call that person back. However, if it is a life-or-death situation and you need to pick up the phone right away, I understand. (But then, why are you out shopping if there is an emergency going on?)
Most people who pick up their phone in the midst of a transaction utter something like “Hold on for a sec,” to whomever is on the line and then re-focus the attention back to me. Those people I greatly appreciate. However, other people I have encountered in my eight months in the retail world pick up the phone and say something along the lines of “Oh nothing, just out shopping. I’m not busy.” Uh, yes, yes you are. Then, when I try to tell that customer what the total is or why we can’t accept an online-only coupon in stores, I’ll usually receive an eye roll and a grumpy retort about being on the phone. I’m sorry I am inconveniencing you while you’re out shopping.
This isn’t just limited to the retail world, necessarily. While I was at Ohio University — the excellent establishment of higher learning that it is — I experienced this at my part-time job there. I worked at Jeff Market. Now when I say market, I don’t mean like a fresh produce market or a grocery store. It was more or less a convenience store. When students had extra meals from their meal plans they didn’t use, they could buy food and such at the markets with those meals. It had an abundance (read: yeah, right) of health foods galore. Most kids were there to gobble up the Easy Mac, Ben & Jerry’s, Chobani or to grab a Starbucks Double Shot before heading to class. But for some reason in that cramped market, people thought it would be all right to talk on the phone when us employees would try to explain they had used up all their meals and needed to either pay another way or put stuff back. No one understood the meal-to-swipe ratio in my three years at Jeff Market. No one.
So, being the talented college students we were, the employees all devised a plan to deal with unruly phone users. We made a sign. Not just any sign, a sign colored with Crayola markers that read “Hang up to be rang up” with a lovely drawing of a cell phone beside it. Brilliant, isn’t it? I tended to be polite and ask students to not answer their phones because sometimes, students would just hand me their IDs and go on with the phone conversation. This was difficult because I wouldn’t know if you’d want to use all your meals in one transaction, would you want to do half meals and half cash or if you even had enough meals left anyway. I don’t know any of this from you just handing me your ID. Mind readers may know this, but not me. Other coworkers would just point to the sign until kids understood they weren’t getting their precious Chobani Greek yogurt until they ended their conversation. (Seriously, we would run out of Greek yogurts in mere hours. People loved those things.) Eventually, we got asked by a full-time employee of the university to take the sign down. Something about it being rude to customers or whatever.
Retail can be ruthless. Whether it is customers no fully understanding the return policy and throwing clothing at you or customers trying to return clothing they bought three years ago, it is always an exciting day at my place of work. (Those are both stories for another day.) However, I am done saying sorry to phone gabbers at the register like my presence bothers them so. While the majority of places probably won’t let employees use a similar “hang up to be rang up” tactic, chatty Cathys will grind my gears.