antique cash register on white background

Why I’m a Rude Shopper

I can’t remember the last time a Kroger cashier thanked me first. They’ve reduced the number of staffed checkout lines and replaced them with mostly self check-out, which is a topic for another post about stealing. So there is at least 60% less human interaction than there was fifteen years ago, and today’s interactions tend to be robotic and thankless.

Many Kroger stores have a great organic section and the prices are very competitive, so I tolerate it. Publix has an abysmal organic section with a few overpriced, bruised Fujis and some wilted lettuce for $6, but better customer service. I’d rather go to Kroger and pay less for better produce with a subpar checkout experience than get gouged at Publix for a mealy apple with a smile.

woman with basket facing produce aisle

This may seem contradictory to the point of this post, but stay with me. In the end, I want value, and I’ve become accustomed to poor service because I live in this world. But I do one thing, which may make me seem rude, because I’m holding out for something better.

One woman who works the mailroom at my building doesn’t even say hello when a resident walks in. She just waits for you to ask for your package, then silently skulks off to fetch it. She hates her job. (She is the only bad egg there – the rest of the staff is pretty pleasant, and the manager is a real gem.) But interacting with her leaves a film of bad juju on you for at least an hour.

boxes and packages stacked on shelf
Hey Chewy!

This is the opposite of customer delight. Remember my post about the clunky way that customers have to sign up for a Target RedCard? Similarly, in order to cancel your LA Fitness membership, you need to log in to LAFitness.com then print and either mail or bring in a cancellation form Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM, when most people are at work. Here’s Step 1 after clicking on the form. It contains nothing more than your name and ID. You don’t even sign it. I enjoyed the irony of the third “choice”: you have to mail a hard copy but they cannot confirm receipt of said form unless you have an email address. Then why can’t it all be done via email? Of course it could. Nice retention model: inconvenience. The customer-last nature of that policy alone would compel me to cancel if I didn’t already have a bunch of reasons. (I haven’t been a member for years, I just return to this example because it’s so often salient when I talk about customer service.)

Make Eye Contact and Say Hello

It’s all too common that during a store checkout or badge swiping at a gym, the cashier or greeter senses your presence without looking up. Items are scanned or a key fob is swiped. There’s no eye contact or greeting. And there’s no “thank-you” afterward, unless it comes from the customer. Of course some businesses have excellent customer service, and Stan Phelps has collected some fantastic purple goldfish examples, but it seems to be increasingly rare.

out of focus business people waiting in lineOver time, the effect of being shuffled through impersonal assembly line transactions has a negative impact on all of us. And when a cashier at Whole Foods actually says hello, smiles, and thanks you, you don’t mind paying for the experience. Note: Whole Foods is only Whole Paycheck if you shop the aisles and buy pre-prepared foods.

The difference made by a cashier or server who makes eye contact, offers a greeting, and thanks me first upon payment is a contrast to most transactions. We’ve come to expect the exchange of money for goods to be mechanical. Where the customer is seen as polite by offering thanks first. (If the salesperson did something to help you, like finding your blouse size, of course thanking them first makes sense, because it’s for a specific action. But for the transaction itself, no.) The person taking the money should thank the customer first. And the customer should say, “you’re welcome, and thank you.” The order matters. Maybe this is why we love to shop online: although the thank-you page is automated, at least it happens in the right sequence.

Thank you for shopping with us today, [smile], we appreciate your business.

You’re welcome, and I look forward to returning.

I would like to close this with a strong statement like, “This is how you stay in business.” But that would be a lie, because tons of retailers and stores don’t train their employees to interact with gratitude and politeness, and these businesses are well in the black. Maybe our widespread addiction to phone checking, which really equals checking out of the present moment, has created a status quo in which rudeness is acceptable. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Either way, I’m holding out – I don’t thank first when I hand over money.