On Checkout Line manners

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Happy 4th!

First, can I tell you how much mental math takes place when you hit a “going out of business” sale?  We went to Gander Mountain yesterday and spent an hour or more looking at discounted goods.  Seriously, how much ammo does one need?  Fishing gear?  We did find some great buys on outdoor gadgets, performance-fabric items, and even camo mugs, but our pockets were quite a bit lighter on the way out.

The problem with big sales, as I see it, is that you are never quite sure if you are getting a real bargain, or just a “bait and switch” bargain.  And, exactly how much is 20% more off of the 40% sale price off of the outlet price which is already discounted from the retail?  Bottom line, don’t go in if you are not prepared.  And don’t wait in line for the bottom line if you have forgotten your checkout line strategies and manners.

Who knows the best way to choose the fastest line?  Often, it is not the shortest if one is merely counting bodies.  And, if doing a body count, keep in mind that small kids and teens don’t count.  They are placeholders without cash.  A better strategy is to do an item count.  Better yet, is to assess the difficulty of scanning each of those items.  Will the checker have to go around the counter and/or cart to use that scanny thing?  Can he scan like items by scanning once and then hitting some magical “X 20” button on the register? Or, might the ice cream have to be double-bagged or the greeting cards and snuff go in bags of their own?  All questions for consideration.

But the best way, by far, to assess the best line choice is to carefully observe the checker herself.  So, so much about the way you move through a line is impacted by the quick or sluggish movement of the hands, arms, and overall body movements of the person behind the counter.  She can make or break/brake your shopping experience, sale or no sale.  In our family, Ken has learned to defer to me when choosing a line.  I have chided him time and time again for taking the “short” route only to find the line is short because it is about to close, or those ahead have seen the flashing blue “help me!” light over the register and he has not.  Although I do make an occasional error, I do have the better track record and so I am sharing my secrets with you.  By the way, we keep score and so should you.

Hands:  If she is just using one to pick up, scan, and then bag your items, avoid at all cost.   It’s like when you weed a garden: if you have to bend down and break your back to pull offending plants, you might as well use both hands to grab more at a time.  We do this naturally with salad tongs or diaper-changing, so why not here?

Arms:  Like hands, these need to go at full speed with no rest for the weary.  Picture yourself doing laundry or cooking with only one arm going.  This is not to insult friends or family who might only have one, but they have made accommodations for their different abilities and so must the checker.

Body: Now we’re talking total checkout motion, using the core to swing right then left from item to scan to bag.  Sometimes, you will see an excellent checker use their body in a rhythmic fashion, semi-lunging in each direction in time to the conveyor belt speeds.  A prime checker is likely to burn 20 calories per minute when using full body movement compared to one with lazy, un-timed hands.

Smile, voice, and tone:  Finally, if the checker has met all of the requirements for “best”, as outlined above, you can make your ultimate decision based on the quality of conversation he is having with the customers in front.  Now, this can go two ways.  If the checker is smiling and chatting while looking mostly at the products, you are good to go.  If he scans quickly, stops, smiles, chats, scans quickly, stops, smiles, chats… beware.  This is a prime checker in the making, and likely the most popular at the lunch table, but choose with caution.

Now, on to manners.

At Gander Mountain, where I was helping Ken spend a lot of money, only one line was open on a holiday-going-out-of-business day.  Absurd!  The line was backing up through the merchandise tables and racks and the end was about a quarter mile from the bagging area.  Thus, applying my “choice for best checker” strategy was pointless.  Instead, I opted for “choice for best position in line”, meaning square behind the customer ahead so it was clear …. very clear… where the line was ending.  (By the way, this free for all method in some stores leads to nothing but trouble.  I totally appreciate Marshalls, for example, who has you streamlined (or cattle-lined) in a tightly controlled row of “grab and go” items.  Impulse purchasing is the way retailers make their best money, you know that.  So to have us lined up perfectly in clear-cut lanes is appreciated by all, although you are at the mercy of the “Next!!!” lady.)

But in Gander Mountain, with only one line and a crowd of vultures, I was forced to stake out my place.  All of a sudden, I turned from my last looks at cheap sunglasses to see a woman, man, and two red-white-and-blue-clad youngsters take up the space to my right with eyes forward as if they were the next in line!!!  They even had a shopping cart, with one item, partially wedged between me and the man in front as if to casually nudge me out of the way when I wasn’t looking!!!!  I raged inside.

“Excuse me”, I said to the mom.  “I am in line here.  This is my place.  The end of the line is back there. Beware those of us who stake out our place in line with fervor.  Take your American kids and move it.”

“I know”, she snapped back. “I’m aware of that.”

I wasn’t sure.  I edged my cart into the back of the knees of the man in front.  I leaned over the child-ride part and bent my head in exhaustion to indicate I could not see nor hear her and I was therefore unable to do anything but slide forward.  She did not move an inch.  She did not take her place in the back of the line or remove her goofy kids from my sight.  But I had drawn the line in patriotic colors and she knew it.  That was enough for me.

Until, of course, Ken chimed, “Hon?  Why don’t we let them go first?!  She only has one thing and we have so much!”  Sigh and damnation.

It was true … all of it…. it was the nicer thing to do, to let her move up a space and take her sweet kids and handsome husband off to the fireworks asap.  I had to admit it was exactly what I always do in the same situation even without my generous husband to remind me of good manners.  In shame, I nodded to her and she rewarded me with a wonderful smile, many thanks, a good old-fashioned chuckle at how frustrating it is to have only one checker on such a busy day, etc.  And I knew that God above would reward me in time for my consideration and kindness.  That is, until, I took my place in front of the using-one-hand-only, using-one-arm-only, body-not-swaying, chit-chat-and stopping check out girl from hell.

Ken, on the other hand, will be heading toward the Pearly Gates since he smiled back at her, took off all of the hangers, folded items, bagged them, asked her how her day was going, and then ultimately thanked her for working on a holiday so the rest of us could play.

Checkout line manners:  Score 1 for Ken.

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About beckyjorndecker

Just turned 57, loving life with an amazing husband, kids, and grandchildren. Hoping to break camp and head west out of Maryland, to experience nomadic life in a tin can Airstream. Hoping to find some borrow pit adventures.
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