In the June 14 Landmark, Judy Baar Topinka wrote about being able to tell things about people by seeing what they have on the conveyor belt in the supermarket checkout lane.
She is dead on with her observations, such as about people who overbuy for their pets. But while she still has a fine reporter’s eye for such things, I believe that, in this case, I easily have the edge on her. I have worked as a supermarket checker since 1980. Scout’s honor. I’ve been “reading” people’s orders for decades. That’s how I know she’s right.
Have customers ever wondered just how boring a supermarket checker’s day is? Mostly, the same old sale items come down the belt. We see the same old money, and have to say the same old things: “Hello, how are you? Have you found everything you wanted? Are you using Pay By Touch? Do you have your Preferred Card? This is our extreme value buy. Do you have any coupons? And your amount is … And your change is… Hold on while I run your check through, OK? Is that a credit card or a Link card? Would you like any help outside with your order? Thank you for shopping with us, and have a good day.”
We, the checkers, do become bored by the same old items heading towards us, and our monotonous recitations. Personally, I vary the words I say, and even my tones of voice.
Sometimes I speak like a commercial announcer on television: “Yes, you, too, can have our new extreme value buy, Fritos and Cheetos snacks, for the low, low price of only one dollar and twenty-four cents. Um, yum! What do you say to that?” My special delivery has been known to be remarkably effective.
Still, there are times when even that is boring, and so I “read” people’s orders. I’ve been known to accurately predict the number of children in a family, their approximate ages, whether visitors will be arriving at the house and what is going to be eaten at their next meal.
I still smile at odd combinations, such as an Eli’s Cheesecake and diet soda bought together. Who do they think they’re fooling? Of course, I’m very nice about it. I say to the customer that this way, they both balance out. A balanced diet. Sort of.
Then there are the “sad reads,” such as when get well or condolence cards are bought. The customers’ faces reflect their moods, and so does mine. Such things are not to be joked about, and I nod understandingly.
Thanks to my ongoing study of body language, I can even “read” customers. While items are being set on the conveyor belt, I can usually figure out the customer’s mood, updating the information as time progresses. I am very good at this.
One time, a few years ago, I took especial note of one customer unloading her shopping cart. Clearly she was unhappy, and even angry. I sped through her order, even though she asked so many accusative questions and made so many snide observations that she was downright impolite, and I’m being kind in using that word to describe her.
Both I and the bagger did all we could for her, and it really was an exceptionally well-done order. Any other customer would have been well-satisfied, but not this lady, oh no! I had pegged her from the start. I knew she was not going to be happy, no matter how well her order was executed.
I and the bagger made sure we said all the right things, in the right tones of voice?”I did not joke with her; she would have thought such pleasantries to be a total waste of her valuable time. But she did have the time to go over to the Service Desk and complain about us.
I don’t remember what, a minute later, we were told she had said. Fortunately, I’d made sure we had witnesses to the whole episode, and everybody, customers and employees alike, backed us up against her. That’s what comes from doing “advanced reading studies.”
So the next time you’re in the checkout line, try reading something besides the scandal magazines. “Reading” other customers’ purchases?”and the customers themselves?”can be much more interesting and informative!