Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Customer is Number... 2?

By the time I witnessed my first cashier meeting I had already figured out that it would be a pointless exercise. There are supposed to be regularly scheduled meetings for every position in the store, but in reality they occur far less frequently. I think this just fine by most associates since the meetings are mandatory and require many of them to make a special trip into the store on their day off or after their shift for 30 minutes of lecturing. The meeting was run by the CSM’s and was really just a laundry list of pet peeves they had about cashiers. Most interesting though were their instructions for dealing with customers. We were to have a “sense of urgency” when taking our break, being sure to take off our vest on the way to the break room. What this really meant was that we were supposed to duck the customers in an attempt to avoid wasting time by answering their questions (of which there were many since only a few sales associates would be working on the floor.) Even more surprising was their command to “try to kill the conversation as quickly as possible” with customers in our lines who were checking out. Of course don’t be rude or say “I’m not allowed to talk with you,” but just stick to “hello” and “thank you for shopping at WAL-MART.” Apparently the customer didn’t really want to talk to us at all and would rather get out of the store a few seconds quicker. I couldn’t help but wonder how I as an associate could still make the difference if my first priority was efficiency and not serving the customer.

Obviously this is another case of the WAL-MART Disconnect, a seemingly universal divorce between the company’s words and deeds. The company cloaks absolutely everything in their concern for their beloved customers. There are the signs in several of the aisles that say that they videotape customers “in order to bring you low prices.” And whenever lines are long the page for all register-trained associates to come and help inevitably ends with “in order to help out our customers.” Often the evidence is subtle, like the renovations to the store that summer. Aisles were narrowed. More of the unpopular self-check outs were added. There still were not enough cart-holders or any security in the parking lot. And most interestingly, turn-tables of bags were added to the end of every register. This contraption cleverly put the customer to work at loading their bags back into the cart, leaving me to scan and fill the bags much more quickly. Another consequences of the turn-table was the possibility of leaving behind bags (it was very easy to forget to pick up a few on the other side.) While this frequent occurrence was a pain for customers, WAL-MART made out quite well since it would restock the merchandise and resell it again. Whether this was intentional or not, I can’t say, but the simple fact of the matter is that if the customer doesn’t return (which was usually the case) the store made 100% profit on selling the item again.

An even more naked grab at a customer’s money is by over-charging customers. In November the Chicago Tribune published the results of a study conducted in the Midwest and California that concluded, “A majority of Wal-Mart stores tested in this evaluation of price accuracy demonstrated errors in pricing that exceeded federally accepted standards for large retail establishments.” This is an understatement since random purchases at 60 stores in California yielded a wrong price 8.3% of the time, quadruple the 2% required by the National Institute for Standards and Technology! I see this play out every day at my own store. The best example though was after Halloween when the store repeatedly cut the prices of its costumes (it doesn’t have the room necessary to store seasonal items.) Despite announced savings of 90% off, I cannot recall any of them wringing up properly all week long. No more than four or five customers caught the mistake and I missed dozens before realizing, never having been warned by any of my supervisors. I tried to correct the most grievous overcharges (the full priced $17 Star Wars outfit that should have cost $1.70…) but I couldn’t keep up with them all, a crime seemingly all my fellow cashiers were guilty of as well. Again, I can’t say for sure that this is a purposeful effort since it is probably partially a product of the stores chronic understaffing. Ultimately, what makes me think that the company is concertedly trying to rip off customers with this systemic practice is the striking number of times the mistake is made not in favor of the customer, but WAL-MART.

There is no doubt in my mind that profit ranks well ahead of customers as WAL-MART’s top priority since nearly every action taken by my store underscores this point. I think that discrediting the theory that WAL-MART’s singular purpose is caring for its customers is essential in order to prevent customers from shopping at the store. While some people will boycott the store for treating workers poorly and killing small businesses, at least an equal number would stop going to the store if they realized the company only wanted their money. After all, is such an unpleasant shopping experience worth saving a couple of bucks?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a contrast!

I shop at a Meijer and bring my own bags. Not re-used plastic bags either. I own over a dozen heavy canvas bags and totes and rarely end up at a store without them. A very few times I have gotten cashiers who looked very unhappy or uncomfortable dealing with the bags. Invariably, these would be the same cashiers who who couldn't bag worth a darn anyhow and would ignore my careful organization of groceries. Really elementary practices like all frozen foods, light and fluffy, canned goods put together.

Most of the cashiers dealt with the cloth bags pretty well considering the bag carousels aren't set up for them. I tried to help if I wasn't busy keeping two preschoolers out of trouble. But most of them did a fine job - I can't imagine what it would be like at Walmart if I did that.

Anonymous said...

C’mon, gimme a break. Sure, the turntables (table?) and bags put an additonal burden on the customer to load her shopping cart — but that’s just smart business on Wal-Mart’s part. Ever go to Mickey D’s for eating in rather than takeout? Do you take the trash from your booth or table to the trash can when you’re finished or do you leave it there for a Mickey D’s employee to clean up? I’m a neat freak, so I clean up after myself. I sometimes even do it in a for-real restaurant — one with a waiter or waitress at my beck and call — I hate clutter that much. I don’t gripe about it — but I’ll bet it makes a lot of money for the franchisees. When’s the last time you saw a “full-service” gas station — or do you even know what one is?

Enabled you to scan the purchases more quickly? Do you mean the customer spent less time at the checkout counter and that customers in the checkout queue didn’t have to wait as long? Gee, that sounds like a really, really horrible way to treat your customers.

You get to be my age, whippersnapper — nothing is more important to me than my precious time. Chances are good that (statistically speaking) you have about five or six times as much time left on the green side of the sod than I do. I am sincerely thankful for every second I can save in the checkout line. Gives me more time to do something I want to do — such as playing around with words like I’m doing now. Saving time is also why I won’t wait for someone to pull out of a close parking space in lieu of one a bit farther away. I want to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. I don’t mind having to walk a little farther.

My bet is that what the busiest Wal-Mart Supercenter in the world recoups (no coup d’├ętat that) from bags left at the checkout turntable might not be enough to keep me in two-ply toilet paper. I can guarantee you it wouldn’t touch what Wal-Mart loses in shoplifting or even bogus returns. (It’s plain enough for me to see that Wal-Mart has made a business decision to be very, very lax when it comes to returns.)

Ummm, that would be “ringing up properly,” not “wringing up properly.” Jesus Christ, kid, if the store is repeatedly marking lowered prices and fails to follow through in the database, who the hell do you think a pricing error would be in favor of? Use some common sense. A product left at 70% off in the database instead of being reduced to the displayed 90% off is going to be in favor of Wal-Mart. I see no reason at all to think Wal-Mart is doing that intentionally. It’s screw-up employees who don’t get their jobs done properly that accounts for that. A side effect of low pay and benifits — I’ll give you that.

Are you for real? Of course profits come before customers. That’s why it’s called a business and not a charity. And why the people who come in to the store to spend their money are called customers and not clients or some other euphemism. No one over three years old should be foolish enough to believe any business’s “Our customers come first” slogans. That’s only true if the business is prostitution.

Learning that profits come before customers may have been a great revelation for you, but not for anyone with her lights on. I do not — repeat, do not — go to Wal-Mart for the ambiance or for a pleasant shopping experience. Besides, “pleasant shopping experience” is an oxymoron to most of us who aren’t morons.

Here’s a newsflash for you: You don’t deserve to have someone as lucid as me reading some of what you write. I don’t know what your class standing was in any of the classes you took in college, but you’d have been one spot lower in every class you took at Stonehill if I had been in them — unless you took dancing or some such class. I’m not a very good dancer — or singer either.

S said...

Thank You! Your honestly and courage is appreciated more than you know.

Jessica said...

I have to say that I do agree with you. I am a cashier at Wal-Mart here in California, and it is nothing like it is made up to be. Those bag things and the self check outs are the most pointless contraptions ever made. The point you made about the merchandise being put back on the shelves and being re-sold, well I had a customer leave two cards and they happened to be religious ones. Well I had a CSM tell me who cares put them back on the shelf it clearly isn't my problem that she left them in the first place! Well I refused to put them on the shelf and I assumed that another associate had done so. The next day they put me in customer service and the lady came in looking for her cards and they were nowhere to be found. So I told her to look in the card aisle to see if she could find the same ones and she did and never found them. She was almost heart broken, so I gave her two new cards. That still does not make things better. My biggest thing is that Wal-Mart stresses about how much they care about their customers/employees but none the less do they care about either one.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I have been reading your blog for a little while and now I finally have something I can't resist commenting upon. I realize this blog is 6 years old now, but maybe someone will read what I have to say. I just started as a cashier at Walmart two weeks ago. First of all, it seems to me that the issues you had are due to the particular store and people you worked with. I have great CSM's for the most part and my biggest complaint would be with the lack of training we receive, which I believe is the fault of higher management and corporate. For instance, when I need a CSM and don't have one, it seems that there should be two CSM's on duty at all times. Often there is only one, and they are rushing around trying to help all the cashiers at once. As far as this particular post is concerned, I love the bagging turntables. I believe the customer should be responsible for loading their own bagged groceries in their cart for the sheer volume of merchandise that is normally purchased at Walmart. If I have a chance, I will load bags into the customer's cart. It was stressed to us in training to make sure that the customer has all their purchases. I think your biggest problem is that you shouldn't have been a cashier in the first place. For me, cashiering is a wonderful, almost exciting job. I am never bored and never without something to do. I hope you have found happiness in whatever you have done after your time at Walmart. The customers I come into contact with are for the most part wonderful and understanding people. I don't know where you worked, but you seem to be very negative towards both customers and the people you worked with. Let me tell you that I worked telephone customer service before, and that is the most horrid job I've ever had. After I left that job, I finished my Associate's Degree and was unemployed for 18 months before I got hired at Walmart. I am thankful for my job and I love the people I work with and the customers. Life is what it is and some people are not so nice, but overall they are just people, like you and me. You have to learn how to roll with the punches if you are going to work so directly with people as working for Walmart. I plan on looking for jobs which relate to my AA, but for now I am thankful to have a job at all.

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