The Checkout

A Store Clerk's Perspective

We all gripe about customer service, especially inattentive, surly store clerks. But have you ever considered the rude customer? I didn't think about it often until my daughter started working in a retail store. Every night she'd come home with stories about nice customers and impudent ones--the customers who valued her help and even approached her as someone who had expertise as well as the customers who demanded her immediate attention, threw their money on the counter and talked on their cellphones as they were being checked out.

I asked Alison to give me her perspective from the other side of the retail counter. Here are some of her thoughts:

1. Don't assume we work here because we could not get any other job or we work here because we have to. And don't assume we don't know anything. At least at my store, our training is ongoing (and abundant).

2. Don't assume we work on commission. That may be the case at many retail stores but not always. Humor us. We genuinely want to help you and genuinely want to find a product that works. We ask questions to help us find your ideal solution, not our ideal sale.

3. Don't approach us as rude. This applies everywhere, but especially at the register. Meaning, do not throw your cash or credit card down on the counter when you come up to make your purchase. It says that you don't really care about what you are about to buy, and if that is, in fact, the case, why buy it? There also seems to be a disconnect between the way people treat their cards and the paranoia they have about credit-card security. So treat the card--and clerk--with respect when you are about to hand it to another person, most likely a stranger.

4. At most stores, and certainly mine, we do not talk on the register phones while ringing you out, so please refrain from talking on your cellphone while we do. It makes us feel bad or awkward, especially if we have a question for you and/or a product you are purchasing. Though, having said this, I will add: If you ever encounter a sales clerk on the phone when you are ready to make a purchase, by all means, feel free to use your phone.

5. Don't think that treating us meanly (calling us "stupid" or talking loudly and nastily about us behind our backs so we can hear) will get you whatever you want, such as a discount or questionable return. In reality, the customers who get the best service are the ones who are polite.

6. Don't assume we're not customers, too. We are, which helps us know how to do the job right. Don't get me wrong, We appreciate your business in any form, but especially if we can appreciate you as a customer and our interaction with you.

By  |  July 28, 2006; 7:00 AM ET Customer Service
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Comments

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These are so true! I worked retail jobs for 5 summers before and during college and then for 2 years after college, and I really enjoyed it for the most part. I liked the interaction with the public, the satisfaction of having very concrete goals (i.e to sell more than last year), and basically the thrill of the "chase."

I've gone back over Christmases and picked up temporary retail jobs at times, and it's still fun, but now I don't enjoy standing for hours and have less tolerance for the rude customers (and they've gotten ruder since I started working in fast food 20 years ago).

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | July 28, 2006 8:04 AM

What really irritates me is when rushed, stressed people (who are all paying with credit cards, not debit cards) get snippy and dismissive to retail workers. I worked at a store during the holidays so that I could get a discount on gifts for my family, pay cash for those gifts and also pay down more debt. From 9-5 I was doing a job that used my MA; from 6-10, I was saving money. And the entire part-time staff of the small chain store where I worked was usually employed in other jobs and working there to earn a bit extra and get a good discount.

Posted by: Gaithersburg, MD | July 28, 2006 8:16 AM

Alison's points hold merit, because there are alot of rude customers and no appreciation for hard work. However, there seems to me to be a lack of helpful sales clerks. There have been numerous times I have gone into mostly empty stores, where the sales clerks were talking to each other in groups about how they are ready to go home, personal life, etc. No one came up to me to see if I needed anything, even though it was obvious I was looking for something. No one greeted me when I walked in. It was pretty much a DIY operation.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | July 28, 2006 8:21 AM

Thank you for a great column. My kids have also worked in retail in high school and college, and come home with stories about customers with bad attitudes. Years ago at Office Depot, a lady asked my son to help her find something. "Just a minute," he replied, "as soon as I finish with the customer I'm currently helping." She was irate, and responded, "But -- I -- am in a HURRY!" That was his introduction to the type of person who believes that s/he is the most important person on the planet.

My daughter's experiences lead her to think the customers believe anyone who works in a store is stupid and not worthy of respect. Last month at the photo shop where she works, she asked a customer, "Singles or doubles?" and the lady replied angrily, "Triples -- that means THREE!"

I think customers must be much worse now. I worked in fast food for 5 years, until I was 21, and I don't remember very many rude customers.

Posted by: maryjulia | July 28, 2006 8:28 AM

Cashiers are people, too. I know this b/c I was one, for several years during college.

I have to confess, though, that these days I get frustrated by inattentive cashiers who don't know or use the most basic social rules. For example, it should _always_ be "That'll be $22.04, please." Instead, the best one gets these days is a muttered "$22.04," or, worse, a glum silence as the cashier expects the customer to see the amount posted on a monitor or display.

I suppose I sound old when I say this, but I _never_ treated customers so rudely. Cashiers of the world, treat your customers as if they are special to you, and almost all of them will treat you well in return. Remember, no customer = no job.

Posted by: Jim | July 28, 2006 8:45 AM

All people are deserving of common courtesy. It says a lot about you as a person when you can't give everyone that. I think too many people confuse common courtesy with respect. It doesn't hurt anyone to be polite, regardless of whether you feel the other person is deserving of it or not.

I've encountered rude employees in all types of situations, but I've never let that reflect how I act. My Dad would be ashamed if he saw me being rude to people, for any reason, and I'm not that old. I'm a baby boomer offspring. So that old line about "kids these days . . . " or "people these days . . . " just isn't true. My kids are teenagers now and it pleases me to no end when someone tells me they saw them out, without me around, and they behaved very well.

Posted by: Oxon Hill MD | July 28, 2006 9:03 AM

I think some problems are caused by large department stores not having enough clerks so the person running the register has to leave to show merchandise or answer questions and then check-out lines get long.

If they are running promotions where they offer a discount with a store credit card that can gum up an entire line because one customer will take an extra long time.

Another problem I see is crazy credit card processing screens. If you are paying with a bank card, and using it as a credit card instead of a debit card (which incurs a fee for the customer) you always have to punch around and CANCEL a screen. Every store is a little different and it gets confusing.

Store managements -like the one that recently took over a large DC-Area chain- could make it easier for employees by attending to such things.

Posted by: RoseG | July 28, 2006 10:21 AM

Good column. The service industry is tough. I worked as a waitress 20 years ago & remember how some customers would vent their lack of power in other areas of their lives on the wait staff.

I agree with the Oxon Hill posting -- we owe each other basic courtesy. But when would people take time to think about it? So many people are in their own little worlds, listening to iPods or talking on their phones, walking right into you.

Posted by: Washington, DC | July 28, 2006 10:30 AM

Good column. The service industry is tough. I worked as a waitress 20 years ago & remember how some customers would vent their lack of power in other areas of their lives on the wait staff.

I agree with the Oxon Hill posting -- we owe each other basic courtesy. But when would people take time to think about it? So many people are in their own little worlds, listening to iPods or talking on their phones, walking right into you.

Posted by: Washington, DC | July 28, 2006 10:31 AM

I got one better: Customers being rude to other customers in front of a store clerk who does nothing.

A year or so ago, a friend and I were checking out at Wegman's in NoVa. My friend is deaf and visually impaired and uses a cane. However, he is not "blind" in the sense of seeing nothing.

There was a well off man checking out in front of us. Before unloading our cart, my friend looked and did not see that the man had any groceries in his cart (I looked too and did not see anything because the man was blocking full view of the cart) so we both assumed he had finished unloading and was ready to pay.

As my friend started to unload the cart, the man turned around, with anger on his face and said something to my friend to the effect of "What are you doing?" I happen to be deaf too, but I lipread this, and I told the man my friend couldn't hear him. The man went ballistic. He started yelling and making a scene, and it was then we saw his cart was full.

He had pushed his cart all the way to the area where you pay, apparently planning to unload it there next to the clerk instead of unloading it at the beginning/middle of the conveyor belt like 99% of the population does.

Well once we saw that, I tapped my friend and explained the man needed the whole conveyor belt for himself, and we proceeded to put all our unloaded groceries (which had gone to the middle of the belt, and no further...the man still had half a belt to use) back into the cart. The man huffed and then began placing his items on the belt one at a time.

My hearing fiance then overheard the kicker: "He [my friend] shouldn't unload carts and should stand at the back. You people should do this for him," the man complained to no one in particular. That set my fiance off and he was about to start a fist fight because of such ignorant comments (my friend is fully capable of independent living, even if it isn't as perfect as this apparently too-rich-for-his-own-good moron's life.)

My fiance bit his tongue, though, and we let the fool finish and pay before we dared touch our cart again. The clerk was mortified and apologized to us after the man left in a self-righteous huff, and said he's seen a lot of the more well-off folks commit most of the social faux pas and blatant rude acts.

Is there a relation? Because you are not hurting for money, you must be rude to others in disproportionately higher numbers than is the population at large? Ah...well that's what I've noticed.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | July 28, 2006 10:34 AM

Great column. I think the "rude customer" and "customer no service rude clerk" are just two sides of the same sad coin. Way too many people in our culture have no manners (probably weren't taught) which, aggravated by "me first!" attitudes, creates a toxic public environment.

I'm starting to feel like an old fogey since I hit 50. While I grew up in Florida, so I can't tell stories about walking to school in the snow, I am feeling nostalgia for "the good old days". I know much wasn't "good" in those days, but public life was more pleasant. I mean the days when my mother would smack me publicly for being rude to a service employee. When I was taught that common curtesy is due all people -- that "please" and "thank you" were magic words. When waiting your turn was normal and it was really outside the norm (ie RUDE) for someone to think their business was more inportant than the folks in front of them, and the folks in front of them would say so.

Tell your daughter there are plenty of us who appreciate her efforts to be helpful and professional in the service industry. We will say thank you and leave the store quietly, without huffing our attitude all over the place. And we will hope that the rude bullies don't drive her out of the business.

Posted by: carolfb | July 28, 2006 10:55 AM

i happen to agree with all comments. i hope that everyone reads this artical and understands what crap us retail people have to put up with. and its not always true about retail people wanting to help. i have had many bad experiences when it comes to customer service. and i hope this artical urges employees to work harder, because if you want customers to show respect, you have to do the same.

Posted by: nicole | July 28, 2006 11:10 AM

Thanks for hitting (unintentionally) a pet peeve. Those who "throw your cash or credit card down on the counter" are not always being rude. In some cultures, it is rude to place these things in the hand of the cashier. In others, it is rude to place it on the counter. I (growing up in suburban MD) lean towards the former.

Posted by: Wayne | July 28, 2006 11:11 AM

I hate shopping and try to keep it to a bare minimum. I also attempt to keep chit-chat with any retail staff from little to none. If I encounter rude or inconsiderate staff, I vote with my wallet and move on to another store. I don't want to be friends with you or know if you didn't get any sleep the previous night because you were out partying. Just process the transaction, but my stuff and receipt in the bag and let me be on my way in peace. Thank you for listening.

Posted by: David | July 28, 2006 11:13 AM

Carolfb, I'm 35 years old and was taught the same things as you. I don't think our age has anything to do with it. I really do think the rude factor has evolved out of the technology revolution. Everyone talks to each other over email or instant messaging, or on cell phones. Everyone expects instant gratification--god forbid they have to wait an extra minute at a check-out line. It's really gotten out of control. I try to be a friendly and courteous customer when I'm in stores, and if I'm confronted with a rude clerk, I turn on the charm. If they don't tell me the total price, I'll ask for it (even though I'm looking right at the screen). If they don't say hello or thank you, I'll say it with lots of sarcasm. "Oh, hello!" "Thank YOU!" At least it makes me feel better! :o)

Posted by: Gaithersburg, MD | July 28, 2006 11:23 AM

I worked in a independent book store for many years and we had strong "rules" about being polite, pleasant, and helpful to our customers. These weren't written rules, just guidelines that all employees passed on to new hires. If you couldn't be well-mannered, we didn't want you.

On the other hand, we had many customers who thought the sun revolved around them. We taught all employees that the best response to a person being rude was unfailing politeness. Stand above someone's rudeness and it only makes their behavior look worse and yours better.

I have to say that the worst behavior I saw usually came from our wealthier customers -- or at least the ones who tried to appear "wealthy". (You can't always tell, can you?) The funny thing is, some of our employees were from quite well-to-do families and wanted to work for the book discount and love of literature, extra income, and sociability. So the wealthy people who looked down on the "poor bookstore clerks" as being beneath them, had no idea some of them were driving BMWs!

Posted by: Jules | July 28, 2006 11:45 AM

Wow, David. If you're so antisocial, why not just order everything online and spare us all your attitude? You have no idea how that "don't you dare speak to me" attitude radiates all around you.

I was raised in a more Southern area. A bit of chitchat is also known as "social lubrication" and usually makes life more pleasant. I don't mean an entire conversation at the expense of time spent ringing up my purchase, but a friendly "Hi, how are you? Nice to be here in the A/C today isn't it?" surely can't offend anyone.

I can't stand it when clerks barely mumble a "hello" to me and generally act as if I'm invisible. If you can't stand your customers, please get a job where you don't interact with the public.

A question: In what culture in the DC area is it considered rude to put the money or credit card in a clerk's hand? I've never heard of this.

Posted by: Connie | July 28, 2006 11:51 AM

Connie: "In what culture in the DC area is it considered rude to put the money or credit card in a clerk's hand?"

I'm not familiar with any areas around here that find it rude, but many foreign cultures do follow this practice.

Having worked in both retail and in restaurants, I've come to a simple conclusion: people's IQ's randomly drop between 10-20 points when they enter places of business! I say that tongue in cheek, but as evidenced by other posters here, people have the ability act despicable in these scenarios and seem to forget all social manners. One of the worst places to work around the area is Montgomery Mall-- wanna-be socialites that populate the area have a truly attrocious attitude in dealing with cashiers at times.

Oh, and for any of you who work in the service industry or have children who do so, I've always found that offering to go get the manager when a customer flips an S is a good way of getting them to back off. I used to do that when I waited tables and I never had a single customer actually tak e me up on my offer. Most of the time, they're impatient, or they are acting like jerks, so if you know you're doing your job just sidestep the mess and get the manager-- they understand the situation and will probably come to your aid.

Posted by: Five | July 28, 2006 12:09 PM

I have worked in retail two summers for a tourist based company in the Western United States. We were looked on as a family friendly business and worked hard to keep up that reputation. The first morning of work was spend being taught rules like "always count back change, it helps you and makes the customer feel like you care enough to be careful with their money", "always smile", "say hello and make small talk to make the customer feel welcome in our store", "do NOT complain to customers", "if a customer is in your area, do not talk with coworkers about things other than work, as it makes the customers uncomfortable." We had very good success with our customers and usually when treated well, the customers responded well. I did have one very rude customer when I spent some time in the bookstore area of the retail store I was in. A mother allowed her child to pull lots of children's books off the display and read them (outloud!) while she shopped. Other customers were around and it was disturbing their experience as this went on for about 15 minutes. The mother then told the child it was time to go, purchased nothing and when the mother called to her child to go, the child dropped all the books on the ground and walked off. The mother looked at me and shrugged and left me to clean up her daughter's mess.
Consideration and respect on both ends of the transaction makes working in retail a lot better!

Posted by: Inga | July 28, 2006 12:11 PM

The clerk's comments on rude customers are well thought out and well taken, at least by me. I always try to be polite and to remember the old canard that most of us prefer the taste of honey to vinegar ( and we all tend to respond better to kindness than to coarseness).

I 've just one request of clerks (and their managers) everywhere: please bring back that lovely old custom that we used to use to signal a transactions' completion and say "thank you" (not "there you go" or some other trite phrase which says to the customer "I really hate this job and don't give a rat's ass about you, either!"). Thank you!

Posted by: J.R. heckel | July 28, 2006 12:39 PM

I'm a 20 year-old who's worked in retail for the past three years, and it's unbelieveable how rude some customers are. I once had 16 or 17 year-old guy THROW his credit card at me, and then laugh when I had to pick it up off the floor. And this is AFTER I helped him pick out some body lotion for his girlfriend. Another thing customers need to keep in mind is that at many stores, like mine, employees are rigorously trained to interact with the customers as much as possible without literally following them around the store. If you don't want to be spoken to, that's fine, but just let us know that you'd like to browse for a while and you'll tell us if you have questions, rather than completely ignore us or be snippy. Oh, and the talking on the phone at the register thing! It's much more annoying than you might think.

Posted by: Sarah | July 28, 2006 12:47 PM

David's comments above show how difficult it is for clerks to know how they should interact with customers. For every person who would like more than a "Hello. Paper or plastic?" there are people like him who become angry at the slightest attempt to be pleasant.

Posted by: DC shopper | July 28, 2006 12:54 PM

"I'm not familiar with any areas around here that find it rude, but many foreign cultures do follow this practice."

Ok, I understand that. But if you work in this area, you need to learn that the culture of this area is to exchange money hand to hand. It's the clerks job to know that, not the job of the customer to figure out which culture the clerk belongs to.

Posted by: Connie | July 28, 2006 12:55 PM

I've worked in a card shop for five years now. It started as a way to pay for books in school but I enjoy the environment, our regular customers, the product, and my coworker too much to leave. Most of us have been in the same store for 5+ years, a few from when the store opened 13 years ago. Most of us also work atleast 2 jobs.

We were all taught, and have posters hanging in the back to remind us to:
1 greet EVERY customer with a smile and a full greeting, not just 'Hi'.
2 investigate the customer's needs. Ask questions about what they are looking for. Not just 'Are you finding everything ok?'
3 offer product or solutions. If we have it, we'll walk you to it. If we don't have it, we'll suggest other stores that might. If we don't know other stores, we'll ask other employees for suggestions.
4 THANK EVERY CUSTOMER for visiting and INVITE them back.

Somehow, our store can do all of this while maintaining out social conversations with co-workers and familiar customers, stocking shelves, cleaning, etc. It's not that hard.

For cell phones, we have no problem telling customers that we will wait for them to finish their conversation. Our store is like our home (we spend enough time there) and we would not chat away on our phones if we were visiting someone's home; don't do it to us. It is rude. If you phone rings during the transaction, answer it and tell the person you will call them right back. Then you're rude to no one.

Money on the counter is acceptable. When we are tissue wrapping your purchase so it dosen't break, lay your money down. That is fine. But do know, there is a difference between LAYING down money and SLAMMING down money/cards.

Major pet peev of mine...If you have not signed the back of your credit card or have written something such as CID or Ask for ID, DO NOT get mad at me when I ask for it. Pay attention to your own stuff. I'm just doing my job.

And please, talk to us. As a retailer, it's nice to know that the customer appreciates us or that we're not meeting expectations. If you couldn't find what you were looking for, tell us. If you like our store, tell us. It means alot and we DO listen. Share little things with us. Two nights ago a customer told me of a nice little ice cream shop in Fairfax. It was basic, but wonderfully nice conversation. The ice cream I tried last night was wonderful too.

And last, with the Holidays approaching faster than we think, keep in mind that EVERYONE is in a rush and NO ONE wants to be working or shopping that rush. But, we will continue to smile and be as nice as possible. Please have patience and remember that we are people too.

Posted by: HouseofCards | July 28, 2006 1:01 PM

I suppose it depends where you shop, but the first part of #4 just isn't widely true. I can't tell you the number of times I'm being checked out and the clerk isn't really focusing on it -- talking on the phone or with a coworker about personal issues. If it doesn't affect the speed at which they are working, it doesn't bother me -- but it usually slows things down. That's annoying.

Posted by: Michael | July 28, 2006 1:01 PM

I'm astonished to see the quiet, polite customer who doesn't raise a fuss (David) chastised by someone who thinks the whole world owes her socialization. I never take it amiss when a customer isn't talkative with me. I can chat forever with someone I've just met, but I would never dream of imposing that expectation on someone else.

What amazes me is how few store clerks seem to care about doing a good job as Alison evidently does. May I offer some tips for the cashiers? Unfortunately, these are all real-life examples which I see come up all too frequently, as both a customer and an employee.
1. Customers want to be greeted pleasantly, have our items rung up correctly and (if possible) efficiently, and give you our money and get out of there. Really. I'm amazed at how many store clerks seem unaware of this simple fact.
2. I have had my share of difficult customers, so I can empathize, but dealing with stressed and impatient people is just part of the job. If you can't do it without letting it affect your own conduct, you are in the wrong field. Sorry. Not everyone is suited to every job.
3. If a customer points out a discrepancy between the posted price and the one on your register, no one is blaming you and it is not a personal attack, and it is not a scam. Every store has pricing errors, and it is not the customers' job to check your shelving and pricing, even if they knew how. If it's fifty cents lower on the shelf, give the shelf price to the customer who calls it to your attention, then (here's the key) Fix It Already. Correct the register price or the shelf price, but don't just leave the wrong price out and get huffy when customers want the item at the price the store offers. And if store management won't fix the problem, at least be polite to the customers who are being bitten by your employer's deliberate fraud.
4. If you don't know how to do a weird transaction, I promise you it is not the customer's fault. Just ask someone who knows how, and complete the transaction.
5. You do not get to lecture a customer on the "proper" way to pay you. If a customer is paying with a lot of coins, just count them already. First, as the customer behind her, I don't care to listen to you slowing down the line with your ridiculous admonishments. Second, if you are so powerless and angry about your life that you need to take it out on hapless customers this way, get some help already.
6. I don't appreciate your holding up the line over your holier-than-thou personal issues with cell phones. The couple in front of Mr. CellPhone chatted with each other, and you didn't have a problem with that, did you? It's completely irrational to care whether the customer is talking to someone a thousand miles away instead of a foot. If you can't manage a polite "Excuse me, sir, did you realize this bowl is cracked, and would you prefer another?" with a distracted customer, quit pretending it's the cell phone or the customer who's the problem here.

I've worked in customer service jobs much of my working life, and to this day I do not understand the sense of entitlement and desire to imagine slights that some of my coworkers have. Ninety-nine percent of the time when they have a problem with a customer they created it themselves with a rude response to unexpected behavior. If you want to be good, or even happy, at a customer service job, you simply have to learn polite ways to handle the situations that come up over and over again. If your manager won't train you to gracefully handle sticky situations, start teaching yourself -- visit a library, read Miss Manners, do something. Don't just keep behaving like a spoiled teenager and making us all look bad.

Posted by: Patata | July 28, 2006 1:05 PM

Come on folks

Putting money on the counter is not rude it is just money on the counter-out there for both parties to see the amount.

If you put in in the salespersons hand -fine-but there is no attempt to 'dis either way.

Posted by: centerof theuniverse | July 28, 2006 1:11 PM

Common courtesy. Don't talk with food in your mouth, or while you're gossiping with your girlfriends, or yelling on speakerphone, or whatever poor behavior you feel is acceptable. If you cannot focus on the transaction at hand, the cashier should ignore you and serve the next customer. Occasionally I wish they could just incinerate you on the spot, but that would be too good to come true.

Let's call a spade a spade shall we? People from places with a "slower" pace of life, or places such as the South, expect personal interaction with any financial transaction. People from new England can barely spare a word.

Connie - Washington DC is the capital of the United States which means there are over 180 embassies and nations represented, in addition to those who work for international organizations and even people from other parts of the country. This isn't Paducah. If you can't cope with the heat, the humidity, or the diversity, this isn't the place for you.

Posted by: Actual DC Resident | July 28, 2006 1:15 PM

Pet peeve - 'No problem' is not the correct response to 'Thank-you' or 'Could you help me'. Try 'you're welcome', 'yes, sir/ma'am', 'certainly', etc.

This applies to customers as well as service providers. While there is rudeness on both sides, I have seen more rude customers than workers.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 28, 2006 1:33 PM

Here's my concept of excellent customer service: ATM's, self-service gas stations, grocery stores (Kroger's and Fry's), home improvement (Home Depot), Postal Service self-service kiosks. Yeah, right.. I'm going to wait 30 to 45 minutes for a USPS clerk to mail an item or two that can't figure out how to use their own retail check out system. You people are too funny. Or too stupid. Sorry. Reality bites.

Posted by: David | July 28, 2006 2:05 PM

David,

That's self-service, not customer service.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 28, 2006 2:08 PM

I am a retail clerk at a store similar to a Super Walmart (groceries and general merchandise). Oh, the stories I could tell, especially at Christmas.
One stupid plan designed by our corporate office is siphoning labor hours from the clerks who are actually meant to help customers (departmental clerks), in order to create a lot more specialized departments (pricing, store layout, inventory etc). This means that if you approach a random employee on the sales floor, there's about a one in four chance that that person is someone who can actually help you. And the person is much more likely to be surly about it, because helping you is taking time away from completing a list of tasks which they will be punished or fired for not completing.
I work in the pricing department, and it's a constant struggle to get all our price changes done on time. Some people criticize my department for not putting customer service first. I say, my job *is* a service to the customers. If we stopped to give help to every customer who asked us, instead of paging the correct department and moving on, we would have a mob with torches and pitchforks up at the cash registers because our prices would be laughably wrong.
But because my company, like Walmart, is dedicated to using as little labor as possible in order to maximize profits, they refuse to keep enough departmental clerks to actually give quality service.
One pet peeve from me also- don't get snippy at a cashier or other employee who doesn't immediately know the answer to every question. My store carries over 120,000 items. Most stores now are too huge and change their layouts too often for every employee to know everything.

Posted by: retail clerk in OH | July 28, 2006 2:13 PM

I agree with Wayne's comment (July 28, 2006 11:11 AM) that putting your credit card on the counter instead of handing it to the clerk isn't rude. You checkout faster if you put it down. This way the cashier can uze it when they are ready for it, and doesn't need to ask you for payment.

Posted by: Michael Camiolo | July 28, 2006 2:18 PM

Wal-Mart has good customer service. I don't shop there. *grin*

Posted by: David | July 28, 2006 2:18 PM

"Connie - Washington DC is the capital of the United States which means there are over 180 embassies and nations represented, in addition to those who work for international organizations and even people from other parts of the country. This isn't Paducah. If you can't cope with the heat, the humidity, or the diversity, this isn't the place for you."

Wow, what an over-reaction. Were you born in DC? Guess what, until about 10 years ago DC was thought of by everyone who grew up here (as many of my friends did) as a "Southern" city. Yes, we're all aware that it's the capital of the U.S. and people from foreign cultures (such as my husband and many of our friends) live here.

So are you telling me that every time you have the briefest interact with someone in DC you know exactly which "culture" they come from and what will make them most comfortable, and if we don't all do that, then we're hicks from "Paducah" who should get out of DC? Please.

And really, all I said was, if a clerk is offended that I put cash in his/her hand, it should be pointed out to them by a co-worker or a manager that it's the accepted custom in the U.S., or at least the DC region, to do this. If we all had to try to figure out what each clerk's favored style of interaction was, nothing would ever get done!

Posted by: Connie | July 28, 2006 2:31 PM

"You people are too funny. Or too stupid. Sorry. Reality bites."

David, now I know why clerks who sense such attitudes slow down on purpose. They are hoping to see just how crazy and impatient people like you can get.

Posted by: CC | July 28, 2006 2:33 PM

"It's completely irrational to care whether the customer is talking to someone a thousand miles away instead of a foot."

Wrong. The person with you in person is experiencing the same external environment and knows that your attention may be diverted to the other people you are interacting with. The person on the other end of the cell conversation has no idea of your environment, of even if he does, is not experiencing it as you are, and thus you (the cell phone chatter) are probably diverting most of your attention to the caller instead of to the cashier/other people around you.

That's why studies show that handsfree cell phone devices in automobiles don't really reduce the number of cell phone related accidents.

Posted by: Christina | July 28, 2006 2:48 PM

Sounds like David would do better shopping online then in brick-and-mortar stores ....

Posted by: PA | July 28, 2006 2:51 PM

The key to working in customer service is to essentially be indifferent to your customers, while at the same time feigning just enough politeness to keep them happy. These principles work marvelously everywhere outside of North America and Canada.

This obsession with the proper relationship betweem store and customer is perverse. Stores, and their agents, are trying to take as much money from you as they can while doing the least amount of work, while the customer is trying to get as much as he or she can whiel spending the least amount of money. It is naturally antagonistic relationship, one that has existed for, I don't know, millenia. Stop being babies about it and enjoy the conflict!

Posted by: preslopsky | July 28, 2006 3:00 PM

I work retail, also. Most customers are very nice and friendly. When I am at the register and they are paying by credit card our computer system requires us to ask for the last four digits of their card. It is meant for us to get our hands on the credit card and see if it is signed and can we reasonably assume that the card belongs to the customer, i.e. a woman or a man matching the name on the card. If it is not signed we ask for ID. This makes some people very suspicious. If they understood it is so we can PROTECT their card from unauthorized use, I think they would calm down about it. But they think we don't trust them. They get an attitude or think we are profiling them.
I try to approach each customer as my neighbor. We probably are. WE live in the same community. They should think of us that way, too. I don't think they would be rude to us if we met at church, they shouldn't be rude if we happen to meet at work, either.
Also, in retail these days, the employees are quite overworked. Staff has been cut because it is a cutthroat business and the profit is small. The employees are doing the work of several. They have to downstock by a certain time each day, they have to make labels, bring out new merchandise, rehome discounted merchandise, etc. They are trying to get all this done in a small amount of time so the boss is not on their back. They KNOW they should be helpful when asked for help, but it is human nature to be annoyed at being interrupted from the task at hand, especially when you are in a hurry.
Just some comments thrown out there.

Posted by: Maureen | July 28, 2006 3:47 PM

I worked at a shore store in a very busy mall all through college and I was ALWAYS nice to customers, even if they were extremly rude to me. Why? Because my parents raised me that way. (I just graduated college by the way so my retail days are very fresh in my mind.) But for all the cashiers and retail workers out there, if a customer is screaming at you and being abusive, don't take that abuse just walk away and either get your manager or let them check themselves out. ;+)

Posted by: Melissa in Maryland | July 28, 2006 3:54 PM

"If you can't cope with the heat, the humidity, or the diversity, this isn't the place for you."

Dang. I was born here and I can't cope with the humidity. But it's only two months a year and I don't want to leave my family. On the other hand, go back to where ever you came from, Angry Guy.

Posted by: JDCU | July 28, 2006 4:00 PM

Cel Phones - No, Patata, it is extremly rude for you to continue a conversation on a cel phone while you are checking out your merchandise at a retail store. The clerk is waiting on you, performing a service FOR YOU. Your or someone else's conversation on a cel phone is a sign that the clerk's presence is totally insignificant, and the random BS that you're talking about on your cel is that much more important that I can refuse to recognize you for even the brief seconds that it takes to pause my conversation. Look at it this way - if you were at a store with a friend, would you continue a conversation with that friend when you got to the clerk without saying a word or interrupting your conversation? Doubt it.

David - we need to find you a planet where you don't have to deal with all of the people that apparently don't share your high sense of intellect and self, and who do share your inability to put yourselves in other's shoes and grant them a modicum of courtesy. Keep using the self serve aisles, buddy, I'm sure those machines provide you with just the type of social relationship that you can handle. God forbid that you ever need help at a store in finding a specific part for your lawnmower and have to lower yourself to ask for help from a lowly clerk.

Posted by: John In Houston | July 28, 2006 4:07 PM

Choose the correct response to a rude person: a) anger, b) sarcasm, c) politeness, d) rudeness, e) self-righteousness. As Melissa in MD points out, c) is the right answer. Always. Rude behavior can spark a vicious cycle that won't be corrected by more rudeness, pointed sarcasm, yelling, or preaching. What's wrong with the customer greeting the employee first, rather than vice versa? Why shouldn't the customer say "thank you" to the person who rings up his/her purchase? I've noticed people are usually friendlier when greeted with a genuine smile and a "hi, how's it going", even if you've just waited in line for twenty minutes. You don't have to start a whole conversation, just recognize each other as humans, not machines, who make mistakes, have bad days, and sometimes get upset at the wrong people. Maybe being nice to a surly, rude person won't make you happy or ease the transaction, but would getting angry or rude make you any happier?

Posted by: Right on Melissa | July 28, 2006 4:16 PM

"if you were at a store with a friend, would you continue a conversation with that friend when you got to the clerk without saying a word or interrupting your conversation?"

Sadly, I've seen a lot of women do this. Men, never.

Posted by: JL | July 28, 2006 4:35 PM

Card shop employee, I must comment on this: Your shop is not a home, not yours, not mine. It is a place of business. This is an important distinction.
Please do not instruct me to hang up my cell phone in order to be allowed the privilege of conducting business with you. I will pause my conversation to exchange greetings and farewells, I will remain attentive to your cues in case you have questions, but often, I must combine errands and work, and some conversations can't be cut off for the sake of effecting a quick purchase. And please recognize, you are, optimistically, one in a hundred customer service employees in this city who cares.

Posted by: EE | July 28, 2006 5:01 PM

If you have to go shopping in order to maintain social relationships then there is something wrong with you. Most women - and that includes Oprah (OMG: Am I going to hell?) don't go shopping to buy things, they go to indulge themselves in a pre-fabricated social environment that allows them to feel that their lives have intrinsic worth. Oh, the indignities of the retail world. And God save the Queen! That would be Oprah. *grin*

Posted by: David | July 28, 2006 5:06 PM

I understand David's point about overly intimate exchanges between customers and employees, though perhaps not to the same extreme. (By the way, everything I'm about to say applies equally to the customers, but I've never worked in retail so I haven't experienced that side of it.) When I go into a store, I expect my relationship with the employees of that store to be a business relationship, not a personal one. That doesn't mean that a cashier shouldn't make a polite, pleasant remark (Connie's example of a comment about the weather is perfectly appropriate), but it does mean that they shouldn't be too inquisitive or friendly. I am extremely uncomfortable when I encounter cashiers or sales clerks who either invite me into their personal lives or invite themselves into mine. Personal comments about what my purchases say about my relationship with my wife or stories about your kids are not appropriate, yet I encounter things like that all too often. All I want is a polite, efficient business transaction between me and someone I will probably never see again. If I'm a regular at the store, that's different, but if I've never seen you before, you shouldn't treat me as if I'm your friend.

Posted by: Ian | July 28, 2006 5:15 PM

I used to work at a large chain video store. I once had a customer argue with me for ten minutes about a late fee on his account. He freely acknowledged that he'd returned the movie late, but said that he knew someone else who'd worked for our chain and that person told him that movies weren't "late" if they were checked in by 1:00pm. Since he'd dropped his movie off at 12:50, he thought the fee should be waived. I took ten minutes trying to explain to him that the hour leeway was for the benefit of employees, so that if a great number of movies were dropped off right before noon, we'd be able to check them all in as on-time returns. Finally I got so frustrated I said, "Sir, the return deadline is noon. You returned your movie after noon. If you wish to rent a movie today, you have to pay the late fee as well." He left the store still complaining, but he paid.

Posted by: Emily | July 28, 2006 5:24 PM

I've worked in retail most of my working life.

I've always tried to be nice to customers, even if I am tired or know there is other work I need to do in the store.

But when you have a customer who is rude to you to the point where you want to cry/scream/hit something it is very hard to bring the smile back to your face for the next customer who could be only 10 seconds away.

Also, I can't stand when people just stare at you expecting to read their minds. If someone doesn't ask if you need help ask them for help. We're never going to bite your hit off for it. Unlike some customers who will.

Don't blame the clerk for the wrong price coming up at registar. They aren't giving you the wrong price on purpose!

Posted by: Sarah | July 28, 2006 8:55 PM

I worked at a department store (a chain) for a while, and tried to be helpful. And I only recall being truly uncomfortable with a customer once*.

But there were other things... I really could not help much with people who asked whether they should buy a running sneaker or a walking sneaker. Hey, I weighed 250 lbs at the time, so of course I was assigned to the Sportswear department!

And I do not know - did not dare ask - if the store approved of something I did. It was located in a large mall, and the mall published a hand-out map. I kept several of these at the register, and if someone asked for something we did not carry, I would mark possible other stores on the map and give it to them.

---
* OK, why? Well, a man had just gotten a credit card for his youth group, and was buying a LOT of stuff. While waiting on him, security called about a previous customer suspected of shoplifting - and during the conversation noticed the pile of stuff I was ringing up and asked if I was sure it was OK, to which I said yes.

Unfortunately, the customer was convinced the call had been about him from the start, that security had called about a person of his ethnicity making such a large purchase, etc. I literally broke into a sweat trying to calm him down...

Posted by: teqjack | July 28, 2006 10:01 PM

I worked as a bellman for several summers at a nice downtown hotel in the 1970s. I don't remember any guests trying to make my job unpleasant. I'm not sure how different it would have been working with the general public, but I've tried to be as pleasant a customer as those guests were.

I do feel general courtesy has declined in recent years. Many retail people seem to have a confrontational attitude, which I sense comes from some unpleasant customer encounters. I can understand the defensiveness, but I wish they would start out in a positive way and then deal with a problem if one comes up.

There are books about providing good customer service, even for customers who don't seem to deserve it. Selecting and training retail people well makes a big difference. My credit card company is a good example. They are consistently capable and pleasant when I call with a question or concern. I'm sure they have to deal with difficult customers too, but they don't let that affect their general attitude. I have been their customer for many years.

Some of the stories here show that rudeness makes a lasting impression. Courtesy is certainly a bottom line issue. I have less and less patience for shopping hassles and do most of my shopping online. Today the cashier at the drug store was too busy with a conversation with her coworkers to say "thank you" to me. I've found the same brand at half the price on the Internet and ordered my next supply there. It's one less errand to do.

Posted by: Ross | July 29, 2006 12:18 AM

"It is odd to watch with what feverish ardor Americans pursue prosperity. Ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they may not have chosen the shortest route to get it. They cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die, and yet rush to snatch any that comes within their reach as if they expected to stop living before they had relished them. Death steps in, in the end, and stops them before they have grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes them."

~Alexis de Tocqueville

Posted by: David | July 29, 2006 4:45 PM

I can tell you the customers who think they have "money" are the worst! I worked for one summer at a Randall's at the checkout. I don't know if it was the fact that the customer and I stood less than three feet from each other, but they were brats. Fiddling with the coupon dispenser, yakking on mobile phones. One handed me a literal wad of bills that I had to take time to smoothe out and count. The worst was a woman who refused to accept the fact that her credit card was unscannable. To make matters worse, she had only one card, the numbers were so worn they couldn't be entered manually. Clearly these miserable people assumed they had acquired a servant the second they entered the grocery store. My "I'm a Great New Employee" button affixed to my apron seemed to be code for: "I don't know what I'm doing; feel free to belittle me to my face." Needless to say, I stopped wearing that button and some of the customer smugness decreased.

Posted by: Jack | July 30, 2006 5:59 PM

I was in the Cingular store in North Point, Reston months ago to pay my bill. They have a self service machine now. The bill, on the machine, said that I owed $50+/- overdue and $75+/- current. I didn't know if the total was $125 or $75. The clerk was on the phone, so I waited...

and waited...

...and waited until I noticed that he was talking about the movie "Erin Brockavich" and his perferences about the cinema. I quietly said "excuse me" to which he yelled at me that he was on an important phone call with his mother. I said that I just have a quick question about the bill to which he replied: "We have that machine so that we don't have to deal with customers!" then went back to his conversation. I said "If you don't want to deal with customers then perhaps the customer service intustry is not the place for you". I paid the higher amount, then called Cingular corporate. The manager of the store called me back and said that he would speak to the person and apologized.

That clerk STILL works there. I can't remember his name, but I remember his face. Everyone else there is great!

Posted by: Stacey | July 31, 2006 11:00 AM

Just as we shouldn't make assumptions about salespeople, I offer this: Don't assume we're just shooting the breeze with a pal if we're talking on the cell phone while checking out.

When my husband calls me from Iraq -- usually during the daytime on a weekend day, which are times that I'm likely to be shopping -- I am going to take the call and talk as long as I can, even if that means I can't have polite words with the person behind the counter. Sorry if I offend anyone, but that's the risk I take for answering a precious call from my husband in a war zone.

Posted by: True, but... | July 31, 2006 2:21 PM

I went to Sears the other night arriving at 9:15 - they close at 9:30. I quickly picked up some clothes for my son, and when they made the 9:25 store closing announcement I went to the nearest register. There was one person in line, so I stood behind her.

The clerk, Funke, first greeted me with the nastiest look I've ever recieved in my life. Then she told me they were closed and I'd have to leave. I pointed out to her that it was not yet 9:30 and that I had been directed to her register. She then began a tirade against me, how they were closing, she had to count two tills, that I was shopping too late, that if anyone else tried to get in her line she would send them away. At this point it turned 9:30, they shut the mall door and the security person came over to tell us which door we could use to exit and to thank us for shopping at Sears. I was still trying to figure out what to say to the clerk when the other customer said "the people before me were really rude to her". I guess this was an excuse for her being rude to me?!

It was just unbelievable to me. I also work retail. I am never rude to people who walk in at the last minute. Sure, we all want to go home, but the store is open till 9:30 for a reason, and that is because some of us can only go shopping at those times.

So, yes people have been rude to me when I'm working, but I'm not rude back. In fact we had one crazy person who had already been told previously she could not return an item that tried to return it again to us. When I explained to her nicely that it was not returnable. She screamed at me and stormed out of the store, pushing another customer on her way out. Then she called our 800 number to say that she would be coming back to "shoot up our store" - over $30 worth of cookie sheets that she recieved as a wedding gift in error!

What is this world coming to? Everyone needs to step back and be polite. Workers, customers, neighbors, etc.

Posted by: Alexandra | July 31, 2006 3:02 PM

To True, but...

Did your husband call right when the clerk was ringing up your order? If not, you probably should have just stepped out of line and taken the call.

If your phone call is that important (and it sounds like yours certainly is), it deserves your full attention, which should not be split between the store clerk and the person on the other end of your call.

Posted by: mizbinkley | July 31, 2006 3:14 PM

I worked through high school and college at a local convenience store. Now, as a consultant, I often joke that my "customer service bucket" was emptied during those days and I have yet to completely refill it. On busy weekends, we would hang signs from every register, the deli, and the front door with the Top 10 Answers to Your Questions. This saved so much time I don't know why we didn't do it earlier.
Nearest ATM? 34th and Main
Bank?
Ice?
Parking?
Beach Tags?
Check-in Times?
Grocery Store?
Bars?
Newspapers?
Hospital?

My favorive was Sunday mornings. We would get the early edition of the local paper, as well as the Sunday version. We placed large signs COVERING the early editions, clearly stating "This is the early edition!" These papers would be placed in a separate location from the Sunday edition and the rest of the newspapers. And still, the inevitable question, after pushing aside! the large sign indicating "This is the early edition!" Customer asks: "Is this the early edition? I don't want the early edition!" Drive us to distraction.

While I am still much more understanding of customer service employees, I still get a kick out of joining in their lengthly personal conversations. (This also works well with rude cell phone calls) I mean really, if you don't want comments from the peanut gallery, don't tell us!

Posted by: oh the memories! | July 31, 2006 3:14 PM

"To True, but...

Did your husband call right when the clerk was ringing up your order? If not, you probably should have just stepped out of line and taken the call.

If your phone call is that important (and it sounds like yours certainly is), it deserves your full attention, which should not be split between the store clerk and the person on the other end of your call."

Oh, for cryin' out loud. No. If she's been in the store for an hour and has picked out a lot of merchandise, she's not going to dump it all by the register and step outside the store, just so a clerk doesn't feel offended. She's going to take the call, while also paying attention to the transaction. If someone is rude while they're talking on the cell, that's one thing but people can and do multitask. Stop insisting on the hard-and-fast rule, and save being offended for when a customer truly IS rude (and I've worked my share of retail jobs, so generally clerks have my sympathies).

Posted by: NYC | August 3, 2006 6:20 PM

It's a two way street.

When I'm in a store I expect to be treated with respect and simple courtesy. I shouldn't have to look for a cashier or wait for them to finish their idle chat with each - this happens more than I care to think about.

Since so many stores have gone to generic registers instead of having them in every department where the individuals working in those departments were very knowledgable about the merchandise when people get to a register they don't want to have to wait. I know when Sears changed some of my elderly neighbors said they couldn't shop there anymore because they got confused about where to pay for their items.

When I encounter a good cashier I make sure to respond to their polite comments. When they say "thank you" I always say "you're welcome" or a common one "come back/shop with us again" and I always say "unfortunately I will and spend more money" - this comments seems to make always elicit a smile and it didn't cost me anything and it also makes me want to shop at those places even more.

The customer is not always right but the cashier bears the burden for some of the inconviences the stores are putting on the customer.

Posted by: Consumer | August 4, 2006 10:37 AM

To: "Oh, for cryin' out loud. No. If she's been in the store for an hour and has picked out a lot of merchandise, she's not going to dump it all by the register and step outside the store, just so a clerk doesn't feel offended."

She could step away from the counter, retreat to a quiet area of the store and take the time to speak to her husband. Or yes, drop everything, and come back. Buying things is not that important, and certainly less important than her deployed loved one. Or, she could even shop sometime other than the middle of the day on weekdays, granted she doesn't have a conflicting job.

How exactly do you people think we got along without cellphones? Without phonecalls from loved ones in the military at war? Advancing technology is wonderful, but please do not take it for granted or as an excuse to be rude to the clerk and your husband.

Posted by: Former Retail Worker, Current Consumer | August 4, 2006 11:41 AM

As a former retail pharmacist at a major chain, I worked in various NOVA stores to cover vacations in addition to my full time store. The more affluent areas were the absolute WORST. The majority of customers had no respect for me or my staff, and often resorted to verbal abuse when there was a problem with THEIR insurance, or they were in a hurry and wanted THEIR prescription be filled before the 10 other people waiting in line ahead of them, for example. Even the retirees were impatient. Unbelievable.

I much prefered to work at stores in the less affluent areas, as most of the customers honestly and openly appreciated our help.

Posted by: RPh | August 4, 2006 2:06 PM

A couple of months ago, I was in a check-out line in a local Balducci's behind a nicely dressed lady who seemed to be (I thought) the cashier's family friend. As the cashier rang up the sale, they chatted about a family member, a recent trip out of town, people they knew in common. It did not hold up the line at all. The customer gave me a friendly smile as she left. "That's our favorite customer," the cashier told me. She always takes time to say hello, she remembers whatever we talked about last time, and she always makes everyone who works here feel like an old friend. We love it when she comes in and I wish I was more like her." I thought of that woman all day. We all have a lot on our minds and important places we have to be, but that was a nice reminder that if we take a moment to remember where we are and be considerate of the people who are helping us, we help create a caring and respectful community for everyone. I wish I was more like her, too.

Posted by: Nell | August 4, 2006 6:18 PM

hello sir/ma,

am a native of nigeria, and a 23yrs old honest and strong, and expirienced store clerk if any one wish to employ me . this is my email add yusmah@yahoo.com or 234-0805-378-3895 willing to hear frm anyone.

Posted by: Mr ibrahim shola yusuf | August 9, 2006 2:48 PM

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