Lat Bar

Hi!  You’ve reached Simon’s Thursday blog.  He’s not in town at the moment, so the lovely Robin Burcell is standing in for him.


By Robin Burcell

As a writer, I love the computer age.  I’m not sure I would ever have had the attention span to type out a full novel on a real typewriter. But as a shopper, sometimes I find computers frustrating. Especially those moments when the cashier isn’t smart enough to handle a transaction out of the norm, like the time I was filling prescriptions for my infant twins, trying not to have a meltdown, because the computer wouldn’t let the clerk enter the same birth date for different family members. (I would have dismissed this as a case of idiot computer programmers, up until I realized that the clerk couldn’t figure out that my twins were the same age.) I’ve actually stopped shopping at certain department stores, because they missed that whole spiel that most retailers subscribe to, that the customer is king (or queen as the case may be).

There is one segment of retail that didn’t miss the talk.  The grocery stores. They know that if they don’t treat you right, you’re going to shop across the street. It’s capitalism at its finest. Hand them your ATM card, or your Club Card, and your name comes up on the receipt. 

I don’t regularly shop at these stores, even with the Buy One-Get One Free deals, mostly because I can’t stand that whole fake sincerity thing as they circle my savings on the receipt with their pen. No doubt they’re instructed to do this so they can discreetly look at my name, then chirp, “You saved nine dollars and sixty-two cents today, Ms. Burcell,” as if they actually know my name.  It’s the so-called personal touch that some marketing whiz in some boardroom thought of. What these whizzes don’t realize is that it comes across so fake, no one in their right mind can possibly believe these cashiers really care about you.  And we won’t even talk about what happens if you use your club card on Bad Hair Days, or any other day when you’d rather be anonymous. You know darn well as you’re standing there in your throw-down clothes, hiding behind your oversized sunglasses, they’re going to say at the top of their lungs: “You saved thirty-eight cents today, Ms. Burcell.” And it will be that moment that everyone will turn and look in your direction, see the six-pack of beer and nothing else in your cart, and one of those people will be the guy you dated before you married your husband. You know, the guy that you never run into when you look good.  Or worse yet, it’s your kid’s teacher, who looks at the beer and thinks she knows exactly why your kid didn’t turn in her last assignment.

Of course, this fake know-and-care-about-your-customer routine isn’t done just at the club card stores. They do this at my usual grocery store as well. I think they realize there is a competition to bring back that old “neighborhood grocery store” feel, where the grocer knew his customers and interacted with them.  Since my usual store has “no club card required” in its advertising, the publicity department has come up with a different way of making you feel at home. And they have it down to a science. I’m just not sure they’re applying it properly, though I like it a tad better than the fake-know-your-name-because-it’s-on-the-receipt scenario.  My grocery store guys don’t need no stinkin’ computer receipt to come up with my name, because they greet me with Extreme Enthusiasm.

Cashier:  “How are you today?”

Me: “Fine, thank you.”

Cashier: “Did you find everything you’re looking for?”

Me: (looking down at full cart as cashier is unloading and blithely running each item over the computer scanner as the subtotal surpasses the hundred mark. “More than enough.  I just came in for a carton of milk.”

Cashier: “Anything else we can get for you?”

Me (If I dare ask him to run to the back of the store for eggs, would he really do it? Actually I’m certain he would. I’m also certain the ten people in line behind me would take those eggs and smash them over my head.): “No, thank you.”

In truth, sometimes I feel sorry for the cashiers, because in their Extreme Enthusiasm, they overlook the obvious, perhaps too dependent on the scanner, not really paying attention to what they’re scanning, because the computer is doing all the work.

Cashier (scanning a bottle of Motrin, a box of tampons, and a chocolate bar):  “How are you today?”

Me (looking down at what he’s scanning and glad I’m not at the club card store where they “know” my name, tempted to say: Hello? How do you think I’m doing? I’m trying to figure out how to finance a car for my daughter, pay the life insurance, pay off the new roof, help the twins with their science project, not worry about my father’s failing health, or my latest debacle at work, and somehow meet my deadline. I won’t even go into the whole Motrin, time of month and chocolate thing. Instead, I take pity on him and simply mutter): “ I’m fine, thank you.”

Cashier (dropping Motrin, etc., into bag.): “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I’ll admit it’s rare, but it’s days like this when the Extreme Enthusiasm approach brings out the worst in me, and I think fondly of a magnet I had mounted on the control panel in my patrol car at one time: “I have PMS and a gun. Any questions?” Being a rational person, I know it’s a far, far better thing to simply smile, and say, “I’ve got it covered, thank you.”

Anybody else shop at these stores?

23 thoughts on “Lat Bar

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hilarious, Robin. GOD, do I agree. The last place I want to be recognized or interacted with is the grocery store. I hate being there and just want to get out unscathed.

    The exception is Trader Joes, where they only seem to hire cute, witty and subversive clerks who actually manage to have real conversations with you (and flirt like crazy). The TJ’s employees are happy because they’re paid well and get benefits (it’s a co-op). If not for this little Diet Coke problem I have and an occasional need for contact lens products I’d never shop anywhere else.

  2. Louise Ure

    Robin, I think we shop at the same place. Or maybe they’re clones. It’s gotten so bad that my husband refused to go in — he waits in the car in the parking lot.

  3. Tom, T.O.

    Hi, Robin,

    I simply answer: “Not bad for an old fat man who’s running out of money,” and they usually don’t know how to respond to that.

    I may be repeating myself, but the key to getting along with everybody is SINCERITY. Once you learn how to fake that, you’ve got it made.


  4. JT Ellison

    Robin, this made me laugh. Yes, I have shopped at these stores there, and I’m always in my throw down clothes cause I’m running in at the last minute, and I invariably run into someone I wish I hadn’t…

    Since I’m in a small suburb, I see the same people day in and day out and find it fascinating how many want to share their innermost secrets. And there are a lot of frustrated poets bagging groceries.

  5. toni mcgee causey

    Hysterical, Robin! I feel the same way, except I tend to end up saying those things out loud. I hate all forms of shopping. I just did not get the shopping gene. A (guy) friend was in town and wanting to buy souvenirs for his young daughters and he made me go to the mall. He kept apologizing and assuring me I’d surive it. I wasn’t so sure anyone else would.

    If I could figure out a way to have a regular supply of diet cokes from online shopping, I’d be happy.

  6. Robin

    I love Trader Joe’s! Unfortunately they refuse to build one in our town, because it doesn’t meet the demographics. I swear we use the same currency as the rest of this county.

    As for that faking sincerity, you crack me up, Tom.

    And that whole shopping thing, I was definitely standing behind the door when that gene was passed out. Might be different if I had an unlimited budget? Can afford anything? But then, I’d have a personal shopper do it for me, so I guess not. 😉

  7. Fran

    Oh my goodness! How funny and how true!

    I’m not a big fan of the Cheery Cashier, but I go to them anyway, and when there’s a line and one of the Happy Helpers points out that I can quickly and easily use the self-scan section, I’m afraid I get a bit snarky and say, “No thank you, I’d rather go to someone who has a JOB.” They leave me alone.

    I don’t want to tell them that I can’t use the self-scan stuff because it invariably rings up something wrong – so I’m going to need help anyway – or I break it just like I’ve been known to kill off watches and computers – so I’m going to need help anyway.

    Which is not to say that I don’t support people having jobs, I do, seriously I do! But honestly, I’d rather have phony cheerfulness than try to take on one more bit of technology.

    Especially if it instructs me to have a nice day and thank you for shopping with them.

  8. Robin Burcell

    Self Scanners! The horrors! I hate those things, and it has nothing to do with putting someone out of a job, and everything to do with I look like a complete nitwit trying to get the things to work. Heaven help the poor clerk who is assigned to help the nitwits in the scanner line (especially when I’m in it)!

    My luck, I’d be using the scanner on one of those Over-sized Sunglass Days, and the thing would start ringing and dinging like a Las Vegas slot machine, and then everyone in the entire store would be looking my direction!

  9. pari

    What a great post, Robin,I’m so sorry I came to it a day late. You’ll understand when I say that it’s been a rough week with one of my kids starting middle school. ‘nuf said.

    Ah, those cheery cashiers . . .

    Alot of my PR work was in training employees in customer service. I did this at a big hospital system in ABQ. Let me tell you, my bs-detector is on hyperdrive when I step into a place where that cheeriness is canned.

    However, I’ll go back again and again to a store or other business that really DOES have employees who care and enjoy their own work — no matter how inconvenient it makes my own day to get there.

  10. Robin Burcell

    I so agree, Pari, about frequenting a store where the caring is genuine. You can feel it, and sometimes you don’t even mind paying a bit extra for the real stuff. Sugar vs. chemical sweetener, eh?

    As for the starting middle school… my sympathies to you, big time. My twins started middle school this year. Sort of the double whammy of new school, multiple classes, and the first time they have ever been in different classes than their twin throughout the entire day. In our school district, school starts 7/31. They’ve been at it almost a month, now. I think it’s getting easier (and I’m gonna keep telling myself that for the next few weeks, because maybe it’ll come true!)

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